COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for October 30, 2020

Dear members,

This past Monday, PAFSO held its Annual General Meeting virtually. Though this was the 55th AGM for the association, it was the first that extended full voting participation to members from outside the National Capital Region.

The meeting was very well attended. In total, 57 members participated in the meeting – a number far higher than we have seen in recent years. I am sure that the convenience of being able to log in from anywhere helped boost attendance. But I also think that the importance of many of the issues discussed – the full-time paid presidency, the strategic plan, the renewal of bout de papier – also contributed.

Members had the opportunity to ask questions via the platform’s chat window and could vote on motions using the raised hand functionality. Many thanks to Marty Johnston and Eric Schallenberg for helping out behind the scenes with the logistics.

After a brief introduction and the presentation of the new Executive Committee members (CJ Scott, Michael Eyestone, and returning members Suehila Elkateb, Madeline Johnson, and me)  I shared with the attendees the results of last week’s vote on the future of the full-time paid presidency (FTPP). Over 85% of voters opted to pursue the Executive Committee’s recommendation to continue the FTPP after December 2020. Three quarters of those voters preferred to extend it by one year, to December 2021, in order to allow for a comprehensive, professional evaluation of the merits and value of the full-time position, and for a detailed consultation ahead of a second membership-wide vote on whether and how to make the position a permanent part of PAFSO’s governing structure. The AGM voted to authorize the Executive Committee to take the necessary measures to implement the membership’s decision.

Executive Director, Kim Coles, presented her report detailing the particular challenges of running the office in the midst of a pandemic. She notes how 2019/20 was a year of adapting to new systems and procedures. New IT infrastructure was put in place to allow for working remotely. Accounts payable had to quickly transition away from cheques and toward electronic transfers of funds. And labour relations faced a significant increase in the number of members requiring guidance and advice. She praised the flexibility and dedication of our PAFSO staff, noting that all this was done without impacting the availability, delivery and quality of service to our membership.

Randy Orr, PAFSO Treasurer, was next to speak. He presented the 2019 Audited Financial Statements and the proposed 2021 Budget. Both were unanimously adopted by members in attendance.

Following Randy’s presentation, I went over three important forward-looking initiatives for PAFSO. First, I presented the Strategic Plan, which sets out the association’s objectives for now through to 2023. Next, I shared with attendees the Strategic Communications Plan for PAFSO, which will serve as the blueprint for how the association communicates with its members, with the media and with the public at large. And finally, I spoke about the renewal and relaunch of PAFSO’s flagship publication, bout de papier. The task force assembled to tackle this task has put together two important documents outlining the vision for bout’s renewal as well as revised roles and responsibilities for its governance structure. I am pleased to report that all three of these initiatives were adopted at the meeting.

Richard Ballhorn, chair of the Insurance Committee, rounded out the meeting with his presentation on PAFSO’s Group Insurance programme and John Gosal spoke about our anti-racism and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Overall, I was very pleased with Monday’s AGM. The attendance, the extended participation, and even the platform, all made for an efficient meeting filled with some lively discussions, which, despite current challenges, will serve well to guide PAFSO through the next year and beyond. Regardless of where we are with this pandemic, I believe the virtual format is here to stay since it allows us to open up our meetings to a larger proportion of our membership.

It certainly feels like the AGM has taken up most of our time and energy over the last few weeks, but there have been some rather important developments that we’ve been following. It seems that our advocacy for the compassionate and sensible application of 699 leave at both headquarters and at post is starting to have some effect. Although PAFSO, along with the other bargaining agents, continues to have concerns about the Employer’s understanding of the application of 699 leave,  last Thursday’s message to managers from the Chief Human Resources Officer makes it quite clear that 699 leave can be available in situations where schools are closed in a given jurisdiction. Though we intend to continue our discussions with the Employer on this matter, we feel that this clarity represents a small step forward.

We also met this week with GAC’s FSD and Labour Relations colleagues to discuss the continuing issues with FSD50 and 51  as well as R&R provisions in ultra-hardship posts. While we recognize that there are some serious issues associated with travel during a pandemic, we made the point that a blanket policy against the use of travel allowances in third countries does not make sense now that we know we must live within the pandemic for months or even years. I also pointed out that in cases our members have been without a break for months, the need for rest and respite can no longer be characterized as “discretionary” and could have serious psychological and physical health consequences if it is not met.

I am happy to report that our comments were positively received and GAC has agreed to work with our Labour Relations team to develop a set of criteria for authorization of travel to third countries. They also noted that they are aware of the fact that the FSD50 rates have not kept up with the actual cost of travel to Canada and are working on ways to address the situation. A meeting of the NJC FSD Committee on the effects of the pandemic on the directives will take place next week, and we hope to have more to report on possible solutions then. Although this file is not moving as fast as we would like, I continue to hope that we can make things better in time for the winter holiday season.

We also took the opportunity at that meeting to ask about GAC’s planning for the delivery of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine to missions. They reassured us that discussions are underway and that they are working to implement our Memorandum of Understanding on Temperature-Controlled Shipment of Medication (also known as the Green Box programme) in Appendix F of our collective agreement in order to ensure there is a proper system in place in time for any rollout. There will no doubt be more discussions on this issue over the coming weeks and we will keep you informed.

In the meantime, work on the first segment of our “Creating Brave Spaces” bystander intervention project has come to a close and the Seasonova team has provided us with their recommendations on our training needs. In the course of their research, they gleaned a number of interesting insights into the culture of the Foreign Service and our membership’s experiences of harassment and discrimination. Please register here to join us at noon Ottawa time on Tuesday, 3 November, for a virtual presentation and discussion of their findings.

As always, if you need assistance with anything concerning your current situation at work – COVID-related or otherwise – please contact our executive director Kim Coles. She will get you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors who will be pleased to help you out. For all business, you can send an email to at any time, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

Our virtual coffee check-ins are still going on. They happen on every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 1030 Ottawa time. Please use this new invitation link if you’d like to join in.

Finally, don’t forget to reserve your spot for our regular PAFSO Breakfast at 0800 Ottawa time on Tuesday, 10 November. Our presenter will be Jean-Paul Lemieux, the new Director of GAC’s Assignment Division, who will speak on “Rotationality in the Time of COVID-19.”

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and the next ones are sure to be quite full as well. So, stay safe, and take care of yourselves and each other. We’ll talk again in a few weeks.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld

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