Back in March, when I first heard the phrase “the new normal” used to describe how much Covid-19 would continue to affect our lives, I thought it was a bit of hyperbole. But, just this week, we passed the six-month mark since the emergency work-from-home measures were put in place. In fact, this is my 20th update to you on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, like I mentioned in my last message, I never realized that we would be in the grips of the pandemic this far out. Now, with the number of new cases rising across the country in the last few weeks, particularly here in the National Capital Region, “the new normal” seems to be the only accurate way to describe how much our lives have changed in these times.
Over the past six months, we have adapted to these new circumstances. We’ve done our best to overcome several challenges, and to fulfill our commitment to represent you, defend your interests, and work with the Employer to promote, protect and strengthen the professional Foreign Service. It has been a remarkably busy six months.
Our efforts are having an effect. Last week, we learned that GAC employees will now be allowed to work remotely during the quarantine period required for visits to Canada when it is feasible and supported by their managers. Although this decision comes too late for summer holidays, we’re glad common sense prevailed in the end.
We will also be meeting next week with representatives from the Consular, Platform, and Human Resources branches at GAC to discuss the particular ongoing challenges faced by our Management Consular cadre, as well as by many others who have remained at post since the crisis began. We have heard your requests for support ranging from more flexibility in the use of FSD50 to the need to recalibrate expectations from headquarters and triage taskings to posts. We will keep you informed of the outcome of our discussions.
The FSIA Integration Task Force has also presented the first results of its survey to the ExCom. In addition to concerns common to our membership, such as the management of rotationality and career development, FSIA members have identified a range of immediate issues from the need for more orientation to PAFSO and its role to questions about accessing the retroactive Phoenix-related provisions related to their former classifications. On the latter question, I have spoken with my PSAC counterpart, who advises that affected members should monitor PSAC’s website here for the latest information on the implementation of that agreement and instructions on making sure you receive the amounts owed to you. On the former, we will soon set up a “PAFSO 101” session to not only explain our role and services to new members, but also to help us to better understand you so that we can make sure to incorporate your longer-term needs and goals into our strategic planning.
We’re also following up on the recent disclosure of a privacy breach involving the Human Resources Records Management System (HRMS) that seems to involve most if not all of you at GAC. It seems that for a period of five years, some personal information including employees’ leave records were accessible to unauthorized persons because of a glitch in the system. Although this gap has now been closed, we want to know if any records actually were accessed inappropriately and if so, what mitigation measures the department has put in place.
And, as I mentioned last time, this year’s Annual General Meeting is just around the corner. The meeting will be virtual and streamed online on Monday, October 26 at 1600 Ottawa time. Several people have already contacted us to let us know they would be joining in. We want to make sure that everyone who wants to take part has the chance to do so. So, if you intend to participate, please send an email with your name and department to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another way we have adapted to the new circumstances is by having Virtual PAFSO Breakfasts. Since March, we have had 5 of them, and all were very well attended. Our last one was just last Tuesday, where Blair Cooper, president and CEO of Tradex, discussed investing and retirement planning in the age of COVID-19. In case you missed this eye-opening talk, a recording of the session can be found here or you can download the presentation here. Our next breakfast will be on 13 October at 0800, where we will discuss the upcoming vote on PAFSO’s recommendation to extend the Full-Time Presidency Pilot for a third year. If you have suggestions for upcoming PAFSO Breakfasts, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
Though I have been getting used to working remotely since mid-March, I have had the chance to go to the office from time to time. Lately, whenever I am there, I walk past the stacks of boxes containing the latest issue of bout de papier. And in a week or so, there will be even more boxes once the 2021 PAFSO calendars are delivered. If you haven’t already done so, please email the office with your current postal address to make sure that these get to you. In case you wanted a sneak peek at the calendar, the winners were announced last week, and the photos can be seen here on our site.
For those of you who are interested in pursuing complaints to the Public Service Labour Relations Board on the results of GAC’s recent EX01 competition, our informal information webinar will take place on Friday, 25 September at 0800 Ottawa time. If you are considering a complaint and would like to join the session, please contact me before noon Ottawa time on Thursday 24 September.
If there is anything we can help you with concerning your situation at work, don’t hesitate to contact our executive director Kim Coles, and she will make sure to get you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors. And, for all other questions, please email email@example.com at any time.
As always, I am continuing with our virtual coffee check-ins on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1030, Ottawa time. Join me if you can.
And, while we have been carrying on for the last 6 months in what, to us, are difficult circumstances, we need to take a moment to remember our friend and colleague Michael Kovrig. It has been 648 days – 1 year, 8 months and 28 days – since he, along with fellow Canadian, Michael Spavor, have been detained in a Chinese prison. No matter what we are going through in this pandemic, or how long it might last, nothing compares to what they are living through right now. It’s time to bring them home.
Please stay safe, take care of yourselves and each other. We’ll chat in two weeks.
All the best,