COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for September 17, 2021

Dear Members,

It’s been four weeks since I last wrote to you, and unfortunately, we are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications. This time last year, it would never have occurred to me that we would be heading into a second fall, and a fourth wave, under these conditions. My own patience and resilience are being tested daily, and I know I’m not alone.

Vaccines do offer a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Last week, however, the Employer informed us that since the question of mandatory vaccinations for the federal public service has become an issue in the ongoing federal election, they will be waiting for guidance from the new government before engaging in any further policy development, including consultations with Bargaining Agents. They have also assured us that any policy will include detailed and appropriate guidance for missions abroad.

PAFSO is ready to work with TBS and departments to ensure that any policies address the need to contain the pandemic while accounting for employee privacy and allowing for legitimate accommodations. We continue to urge everyone who can get vaccinated to do so. If you can’t, however, and you believe that your situation is being handled in an unsafe or discriminatory manner, don’t hesitate to reach out to Executive Director Kim Coles for the labour relations perspective on the issues.

On the subject of patience, I know that this relocation season has been particularly trying for many of you, and it seems that some of those difficulties are set to continue for a while. According to the latest information we have seen from GAC, problems in global shipping combined with a shortage of local movers means that some outgoing moves could be delayed until October or even November. Although we realize that our colleagues in the responsible divisions are dealing with very difficult conditions, PAFSO maintains that relocating employees in an effective and orderly way is the Employer’s responsibility. In particular, any costs –financial or otherwise – associated with delays in travel or shipping outside the employee’s control should not fall on those employees or their families. Paul Raven, PAFSO’s resident expert on the Foreign Service Directives, has had considerable success in finding solutions for members faced with difficult situations, and I encourage you to reach out to him if you need help. PAFSO is also keeping track of the issues faced by members in order to inform the upcoming review of the Foreign Service Directives, as well as the negotiation of our next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

On non-pandemic issues, and as promised in my last message, the electronic vote on whether or not to make the full-time presidency a permanent part of PAFSO’s governance structure will begin this afternoon at 1500, and run until next Sunday, 26 September, at 1600. The Executive Committee’s recommendation marks the culmination of the three-year pilot, which included extensive consultations with members and stakeholders, and incorporates expert advice from governance and human resource experts.

By now, you should have received a voter information email from Intelivote, the firm we have hired to help us conduct the electronic vote. This email contains voting instructions, the ballot questions on the presidency and the requisite constitutional amendments, and a personal identification number required to participate in the vote. If you haven’t seen this email, it is possible that it has landed in a Promotions, Spam or Junk folder. If that’s the case, you should be able to locate it by searching for “intelivote” in your email client. If you can’t locate your voter information email, please contact the office to let them know, they will make sure a new PIN is issued to you as soon as possible.

The ballot consists of two simple questions. The first is a yes/no question asking if you accept the Executive Committee’s recommendation to establish the full-time, paid presidency as a permanent part of PAFSO’s governance structure. And the second question asks if you accept the proposed constitutional amendments required to make this possible. You may accept or reject the amendments as a group or vote article by article if you so choose.

For your reference, here is some background information of the full-time presidency, and here is the full list of the proposed amendments to our constitution, which is also attached to the ballot. If you didn’t have a chance to attend any of our consultation sessions, you can view the recording of our latest one here, or view the deck from these sessions here. You can also find a full set of the latest proposals and related background documents on our consultation wiki on myPAFSO.

The vote on the full-time presidency is part of our preparations for this year’s virtual Annual General Meeting, which is fast approaching. One of the benefits of doing this meeting on Microsoft Teams is that participation in our AGM will again be possible for all of you, both inside and outside the NCR. If you would like to participate in the meeting, which will begin at 1600 Ottawa time on Monday, 25 October, please send an email to agm-aga@pafso-apase.com with your name and department. We will be sending out the meeting invitation, formal agenda, and related instructions in the next few weeks.

On a positive note, I am happy to report a victory on behalf of one of our members before the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. The adjudicator found that GAC had abused its authority in the assessment of the member’s experience in the 2014 FS03 competition and ordered them to “reinstate [ the member] into the selection process.” If they are then deemed qualified, they “shall be eligible for an appointment to a position until the pool of qualified candidates from that process expires or, if the pool has already expired, until two years have passed from the date of this decision, whichever is longer.”

Although this order applies only to this complainant, we hope that the decision prompts a re-examination of the screening and assessment procedures used in future competitions at GAC. PAFSO will also be referring to this decision in our ongoing representation and advocacy on behalf of members.

Many of you who – like me – have been around for a while have crossed paths with Debra Hulley, PAFSO’s beloved Director of Administration. After forty-five years with our organization, during which her accomplishments included acting as the driving force behind Bout de Papier and founding the Foreign Service Awards, Debra has begun her retirement.

In light of the ongoing pandemic, she has asked us to postpone plans for a celebration of her long and valued career until friends and colleagues are able to gather in-person for the send-off she deserves. In the meantime, those of you who wish to send best wishes for her next adventure, or share memories of her time at PAFSO, are invited to e-mail them to info@pafso.com so that we can ensure she knows how much she will be missed.

In a sad development this week, many of us were shocked by the passing of PAFSO’s Vice-President for Immigration, Randy Orr, after a five-year battle with cancer. Randy had been a PAFSO member for thirty-two years and had more than a decade on ExCom. For a large portion of that period, he was the IM stream’s lone representative and worked hard to ensure that the interests of that portion of the membership were well-represented. Since learning of his death on Wednesday, I have been touched by the outpouring of affection and appreciation from his colleagues and friends, not only from PAFSO but from management and the other bargaining agents he worked with at CIC. They are united in their praise for his generosity to those around him and his tireless efforts to ensure a positive working environment for everyone, especially new recruits.

At yesterday’s meeting, ExCom voted to honour Randy’s legacy by establishing an annual award in his name for service to the Foreign Service community, beginning next year. In the meantime, we will be making a donation in his memory to the charities mentioned in his obituary, which can be found here, along with details on the arrangements for next week’s funeral.

With everything that is going on, it’s important to protect our mental health. One way to do that is to connect with friends and colleagues by joining one of my weekly coffee chats, which will be starting again on Wednesday, 29 September at 1030. Please register for the new session here.

Also, as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, the Centre on Mental Health in the Workplace and the Canada School of Public Service will be holding a special talk titled Managing Anxiety During Workplace Transitions. It will be held on Monday, October 4, from 1330 to 1500 Ottawa time. Registration is now open. I encourage everyone who can to check it out, as we are all undergoing workplace transitions, in some way or another.

As always, if you have any concerns about your situation at work, do not hesitate to contact our Executive Director, Kim Coles. Kim will make sure to put you in contact with one of our labour relations advisors. Just email info@pafso.com if anything else comes up, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

I hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe. I will be in touch again in two weeks. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President

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