COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for May 8, 2020

Dear members:

This week marks my ninth weekly message to you on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and if there is anything this crisis has shown it is that we need each other more than ever. In our recent snapshot questionnaire on the effects of the crisis, more than 96% of respondents reported signs of psychological stress, ranging from sleep disturbances to anxiety, exhaustion, and trouble focussing. You are not alone and connecting with others is a big part of how we get through this. Not only does it feel good to connect, it is essential for  our mental health.

The psychological health of employees has been one of the major themes of discussion at the regular Task Force meetings between Bargaining Agents and Treasury Board. This week is Mental Health Week, and the theme this year is social connection. As the psychological health co-champion for GAC, I invite you to check out Wellness Together Canada, a site designed to provide tools and resources to help Canadians get through these uncertain times. It offers wellness self-assessment and tracking,  self-directed courses, group coaching, a community of support and counselling services either by text or by phone.

Yesterday, we heard from the Public Health Agency as well as the TBS planners who are preparing for the eventual return of the Public Service to the workplace. TBS is preparing draft guidance, including a checklist for use in deciding whether individual sites are ready to reopen, for consultation by the end of next week. This guidance will incorporate input from Bargaining Agents on the physical, human resources, and digital aspects that must be taken into consideration. Although TBS is not yet able to talk about timeframes, they have indicated that they will take measured approach and that the initial reopening will not involve the return of all staff to work. Many public service members will continue to work virtually for some time, perhaps until we have a vaccine.

Also yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to many of you in our two virtual town hall sessions. It was great to hear directly from you what challenges you are facing in your particular situations, as well as the common issues that seem to be surfacing around the upcoming posting and assignment cycle. Although there is still a great deal of uncertainty, please rest assured that we are working with both GAC and IRCC to get you as much clarity as possible as soon as possible.

If you were unable to participate in the town halls, you can download the recording of the noon session here.  And, you can always contact executive director Kim Coles with your questions or concerns and she will put you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors.

And, because staying connected is so important, I am continuing with the daily virtual coffee check-ins:weekdays at 1030 and Wednesday evenings at 2000 Ottawa time.

I am also pleased to announce our first virtual PAFSO Breakfast, on Tuesday, May 12, at 0800, on a non-COVID-19 topic. We will hear from Professor Jamey Essex of the University of Windsor on the continuing effects of the DFAIT-CIDA amalgamation. His presentation, entitled “Do Clothes Make the (Wo)man” will discuss how the way people working in GAC talk about clothing shows how perceptions of gender, professionalism, and institutional affiliation shape the new department. You can register for the Zoom session here.

If there is anything else you need assistance with, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to send them to at any time, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Until next week, stay safe and stay connected. Take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld

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