COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for October 2, 2020

Dear members,

The inevitable second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is here in Canada. We’re seeing daily new case numbers breaking records across the country, and certain regions are set to go back into lockdown just as the weather gets colder. While all of this is of course very unsettling, we are much more aware, prepared and informed than we were in March and April. For one, our scientists and doctors are much more knowledgeable about the virus and COVID-19 this time around. Canada and many other parts of the world now have comprehensive testing infrastructure. In the National Capital Region, the systems and protocols set up to deal with the spring outbreaks have stood the test of time and are ready to withstand another wave.

One of those tools is the Covid Alert App, which was developed by public service colleagues to notify people who might have been exposed to the virus in Canada. You can find a link to download the app here along with a digital toolkit for use on your social media. If you haven’t already done so, please consider installing the app and spreading the word to friends and family. The more of us who use it, the more effective it will be.

Here at the PAFSO office, will continue to work mostly from home for the foreseeable future. We’ve spent the last six months honing our remote systems and working with the Employer to adapt to the “new normal,” so we are confident we can continue to fight for you and handle whatever this next wave throws at our membership.

Last week, Keely Hunter and Bronson Borst, your MCO representatives on ExCom, joined me in a meeting chaired by Labour Relations with GAC’s Lisa Almond, Director General for Client Relations and Mission Operations  and Derrick Stewart, Acting Director General for Security and Emergency Management, to discuss the particular difficulties facing the MCO stream. We were pleased to learn that a number of measures to ease the pressure on this cadre, including the deployment of temporary duty officers, are already in process. They were also very receptive to our messages about the need to screen and prioritize taskings to missions who are working with essential staff only, as well as to address long-term staffing and workload issues. Your point that expressions of concern about employee well-being are meaningless in the absence of concrete action to improve conditions  was made loud and clear.

We recognize that while MCOs have been particularly hard-hit by the effects of the pandemic, many of you at missions abroad are facing similar pressures. In particular, we know that the refusal of GAC to allow FSD50 or 51 travel anywhere but inside the host country or to Canada is problematic.  Although we are pressing for greater nuance and flexibility in recognition of the situations in different regions, our case has—ironically– been made more difficult by the arrival of the second wave in Canada. However, we have not given up and will continue to pursue these issues on behalf of MCOs and other affected members.

I also hosted an information session last Friday for members who are interested in recourse on GAC’s EX01 competition. Executive Director Kim Coles and Labour Relations Advisor Bert Myre outlined the process for pursuing a complaint to the Public Service Labour Relations Board and answered questions from attendees. We recorded the presentation portion of the webinar and  you are welcome to view it here.

As mentioned last week, our FSIA members have identified the need for more information about PAFSO and its role. Accordingly, I will host a “PAFSO 101” session on Thursday October 8 at 0800, Ottawa time. Although this discussion is primarily designed for the FSIA stream, it would be valuable to members of other streams looking to learn more about our FSIA colleagues and/or about PAFSO’s role and the services we provide. Discussions like these also allow us to better understand you, so that we can make sure to incorporate your longer-term needs and goals into our strategic planning. You can sign up for the session here. For those unable to attend, I will be sure to link to a recording of the session in my next update.

We’re also continuing our work on changing the foreign service culture as it relates to issues of diversity and inclusion. Many thanks to all of you who participated in our survey on bystander intervention, which closed a week ago.  The consultants at Seasonova are now in the process of analyzing the results and preparing recommendations on our training needs. I hope to have more details to share with you all by PAFSO’s Annual General Meeting on 26 October at 1600.

We will not need to hold elections for this year’s ExCom. We received nominations for five of the six vacant positions, but we are still missing an MCO candidate. If you are a member of this stream, serving in an FS position, please consider putting your name forward for nomination from the floor at the AGM. If you would like more information on what is involved in serving on the Committee, you can view our info session here and if you have any questions, you can always drop me an e-mail to set up a chat.

This AGM will be a particularly important one since, beyond the budget, approval of the three-year strategic plan, and the future of bout de papier, one of the big issues we will be addressing at this year’s meeting is the future of the Full-Time Paid Presidency (FTPP). As promised when the two-year pilot project was approved by the AGM in 2018, we will be holding a membership-wide vote on the issue ahead of the meeting.

In light of the situation facing PAFSO as a result of the pandemic, the Executive Committee is recommending that we extend the FTPP pilot for one full year, until December 2021. While we believe that it would be unwise to be without the full-time representation of a serving Foreign Service officer at such a crucial time for our profession, we must recognize that our current environment is in flux and our needs and resources might change over the next year. Extending the pilot will also allow for a comprehensive, professional evaluation of the merits and value of the full-time position, and for detailed consultation before a second vote  on whether and how to make the position a permanent part of PAFSO’s governing structure.

Prior to the start of this year’s vote, which will be held from 13–23 October, you will receive a voter credential email from our provider Intelivote. The ballot will ask you whether you accept the Executive Committee’s recommendation to continue the FTPP after 31 December this year. If you vote “yes,” you will be taken to a sub-question on methodology, where you will be asked if you accept the recommendation outlined above to extend the pilot, or if you want to make the FTPP permanent, effective as soon as possible. A “no” vote would mean returning to the part-time volunteer model as of the first Executive Committee meeting in November.

For those of you who would like more information or want to discuss the Executive Committee’s recommendation, I will be holding two sessions to go over all the details. Click here to register for the first session on Tuesday 6 October at noon, Ottawa time. To register for the second session on Tuesday 13 October at 0800, Ottawa time, click here. If you would like to submit questions in advance, please send them to me by close of business Ottawa time the day before the webinar. We will also post the recordings for those who can’t join us live.

As I mentioned last time, though I am mostly working remotely, I do drop by the office from time to time. And I am pleased to announce that the 2021 calendars have arrived. If you haven’t already done so, please email the office with your current postal address so we can make sure that these get out to you along with your latest issue of bout de papier.

As always, if there is anything you need help with with concerning your situation at work, please contact our executive director Kim Coles, and she will put you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors. For all other questions, just email at any time.

And, don’t forget our virtual coffee check-ins. Join me if you can. They happen on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 1030 Ottawa time. Please use this new invitation link to join.

On a final note, as of today, our friend and colleague Michael Kovrig and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor mark 662 days of imprisonment in China. I was very happy to see a reference in last week’s Speech from the Throne to the need to bring the two Michaels home. If you would like to support our efforts to turn those words into action, please consider using our graphics kit  to get the message out on social media.

Stay safe, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other. I’ll talk to you again in a couple of weeks.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld

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