Update from the President of PAFSO for June 21, 2024

Dear members,

Summer is in full swing in the National Capital Region where we’re experiencing a bit of a heat wave. I, for one, am glad the holiday weekend is fast approaching, and am certainly looking forward to a bit of down time.

Things are still moving forward here at PAFSO headquarters. Let me catch you up on a few important items.

The 2024 PAFSO Triennial Survey
Our latest member’s survey just closed a few weeks ago, and I am pleased to report that participation was higher than it has been in over a decade. We had 639 members take the time to complete our very comprehensive questionnaire. This is not an insignificant endeavour, and we are very grateful to all those who participated.

It will take a bit of time to sift through all the data we collected, but I hope to be able to provide you with some preliminary, top-line findings in my next message to you in early July.

Public Opinion Survey
Throughout my involvement with PAFSO, I’ve been struck by the fact that whenever we talk about advocating for the interests of the FS group, we are told – sometimes by those within our own ranks – that Canadians are indifferent or even unsympathetic to us. This does not align with the experiences many of us have in dealing with the public, so we decided it was time to get some impartial data. Earlier this month, we commissioned Research Co to run our first national public opinion poll to assess the baseline levels of domestic public support and awareness of PAFSO and the FS group.

I’m happy to report that the results were much better than I expected. For example, 72 percent of those surveyed agreed that Foreign Service Officers are essential to Canada’s well-being. Among respondents who were aware of PAFSO before the survey, 86 percent said we were “good” or “very good” at representing and advocating for you, and 82 percent saw us as operating with credibility and integrity. Half would support limited labour action and/or rotating strikes in the event we can’t get a collective bargaining agreement that guarantees safe and fair working conditions, and the same number would consider taking some form of action to show their support.

Many of these results are attributable to the active advocacy and media outreach we’ve been doing since the establishment of our Advocacy and Stakeholder Relations team in early 2023. Of course, there is still much more that can be done to raise public awareness and support, and we will be using what we have learned to target our actions over the coming months, and to inform our ongoing strategic planning.

The continuing saga of health insurance abroad
This upcoming Canada Day will mark a full year without a properly functioning health insurance system for you and your families abroad. Although there have been some improvements over the past couple of months, more of you have contacted us over the past few weeks with even more tales of dysfunction and the physical, mental, and/or financial hardships you have been experiencing. Accordingly, we will be launching legal action before July 1 with the goal of obtaining some redress for affected employees and encouraging the Employer to take responsibility for fixing the system.

Please watch out for details of our plans towards the end of the month. In the meantime, if you haven’t already let us know what you’ve been through, please send us an e-mail at info@pafso.com.

Reminder of the duty to accommodate in staffing competitions
Since the recent launch of GAC’s FS03 competition, we have received questions from some of you about the requirements in the statement of merit criteria. Our FAQ on staffing complaints has some relevant information about this, particularly in section 4 “What is the Duty to Accommodate?” So, please have a look. Our labour relations team is also available to discuss your individual situation with you, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to them.

PAFSO’s second annual Springtime 5 à 7
Last week, PAFSO held its second annual Springtime 5 à 7, and once again, it was a resounding success. Our modest office was filled to the brim with over 40 members gathered together for a wonderful evening of catching up over drinks and snacks. Despite the grey skies, we were able to make use of our rooftop patio right in the heart of Ottawa’s ByWard Market.

Thank you to everyone who attended and made this event such a great time. And a big thanks to Marty Johnston from the PAFSO office, who was instrumental in putting it all together, and to Geneviève Frappier, who helped keep things running smoothly.

These get-togethers seem to always be a hit with our membership – especially with new members. We hope to make them a regular part of the PAFSO social calendar. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop on our plans

PAFSO Awards Dinner 2025 – Save the date and call for volunteers
As part of next year’s 60th anniversary celebrations, we’ll be launching a revamped and updated version of the PAFSO Awards on 4 June 2025, with a gala reception at the National Gallery. Please save the date, and if you are interested in helping us with the planning for the awards themselves as well as for the event, please let us know at info@pafso.com.

Building a digital archive for bout de papier
As many of you know, PAFSO’s flagship magazine has been undergoing a transition over the last few months. Moving forward, bout de papier will be concentrating on increasing its digital presence, becoming a digital-first publication. It is well established that the future of bout is online. But what about its past?

I am pleased to announce that bout de papier is working on building a digital archive of its 40-plus years of articles, reviews and commentary. And to assist us in this process, PAFSO has enlisted the help of Karyss Hancock-Hore. Over the course of the summer, Karyss will lead our efforts to scan, catalogue and index every issue, going back decades. She will also help us identify significant articles for inclusion in the book we are planning for PAFSO’s 60th anniversary next year.

A fourth-year Bachelor of Arts student, specializing in Political Science and Hiatory, Karyss comes to PAFSO with a vast and varied experience ranging from having been Co-Editor-in-Chief for a university newspaper to researching policies for the Embassy of Mexico to overseeing a large-scale digital archive project for a law firm.

We are very happy to welcome Karyss on board and are very excited to finally see bout de papier’s long history be preserved and catalogued for future reference.

PAFSO Breakfast with Alan Kessel
At last Tuesday’s installment of our PAFSO Breakfast series, my guest was Alan Kessel, GAC’s outgoing Legal Advisor. Alan just retired at the end of May, but, as a parting gift to the FS Community, he joined us to share some of the wisdom he accumulated over nis 42-year career in the Foreign Service. In case you missed it and want to hear some of Alan’s great stories and our frank discussion, you can watch a recording of our session here on our YouTube channel.

PAFSO Breakfast on strategic planning July 9 at 0900 Ottawa time
Please join me at our July virtual breakfast for an update on our strategic planning process and to discuss the priorities you would like to see in our next plan, which will be presented at our October AGM. You can register for the session by clicking here.

That does it for this week. My next message will reach you on 5 July, after the long weekend.

In the meantime, if there is anything causing you concern at work, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Are you having issues with your pay? Do you feel harassed or discriminated against? Do you have a grievance or a staffing complaint? Or do you just want some clarifications on our collective agreement or the FSDs? Whatever the case, PAFSO is here for you. Just send us an email with your name, department and a detailed description of your concerns. For anything and everything else, please send us an email at info@pafso.com and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day and Happy Canada Day in advance. Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld