Update from the President of PAFSO for November 3, 2023

Dear members,

As you know last week was a remarkably busy one at PAFSO as we held our 58th Annual General Meeting. Overall, the meeting was a resounding success as was the ceremony for the presentation of the Randy Orr Memorial Award. But, before I get into those, there is a much more pressing issue before us that I need to address.

Advocacy on the Public Service Health Care Plan
On July 1, the Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP) – the country’s largest health-care plan –switched providers from SunLife to Canada Life Assurance Company. Since then, it has been nothing short of a fiasco. Canada Life has clearly not been able to keep up with the influx of more than 1.7 million new members, retirees, and dependents they now administer. And beyond the processing delays and backlogs of claims, it has been near impossible for members to reach a customer service agent for service.

The effects of this debacle have been front-page news over the last few months. And, for those employees abroad, the situation is even worse. While overseas, Canadians do not have access to provincial health care plans and therefore rely on the PSHCP. MSH International, the health care provider Canada Life has appointed for Canadians serving abroad, has also been unable to provide adequate service. We have heard horror stories from some of you in countries where health care is particularly costly, like the US, who can’t reach anyone to obtain authorization for essential procedures. We’re also hearing that MSH is routinely denying services that they are supposed to be providing.

Late last week, a parliamentary committee was tasked with investigating the mounting issues resulting from the botched transition. Our colleagues at the Public Service Alliance of Canada are expected to provide expert testimony on the toll the transition is having on federal workers and retirees. They have organized a letter writing campaign to pressure Minister Anand and Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, to take accountability for improving benefits for federal employees. If you have been impacted by the transition, please take a moment to let your MP know that all federal public service workers and retirees need to be able to access their health benefits. It will only take a minute and the campaign is open to non-PSAC members.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that, although PAFSO engages with the Employer at the policy and advocacy level through the NJC, we play a very limited role in dealing directly with the PSHCP. So to ensure you are getting the most up to date information, I encourage you to visit the Public Service Health Care Plan administrator frequently asked questions. And for any assistance you require with the plan, below are the principal contacts:

This is a very serious issue, and we will continue to provide you with updates as the situation warrants. Stay tuned.

Annual General Meeting
PAFSO’s 58th AGM was held on Monday, October 23. The meeting, once again held virtually to encourage participation from members outside the NCR, broke recent attendance records. By our count, 67 of our members participated from around the world. A recording of the proceedings can be found here on the PAFSO YouTube channel.

I had the pleasure of welcoming six new members to the Executive Committee: Gabriel Bastien, Anaïs Charbonneau, Meagan Dalby, André Marquis, Sarah Tayyem and Liam Kirkpatrick. They will be joining returning members, Kristin Janson, Alison Poff, William Dunlop, Logann McNamara, Michael Creighton, Tam Ames and John Gosal. I want to thank Karine Girard, Sarah Finall, Iris Lui, C.J. Scott, Madeline Johnson, Tanya Belleau and Marie-Claude Harvey who are not returning to the committee.  Kristin Janson and Naomi Gilker are entering the second year of their terms.

I had the chance to brief the membership on our activities of the past year, as well as on our plans for 2024. 2023 was a busy year for PAFSO. Not only did we negotiate our latest collective agreement, we also launched our Indigenous Mentoring Initiative, brought on an Advocacy and Stakeholder Relations Officer and an additional Labour Relations Advisor, and we are currently engaged in the triennial review of the Foreign Service Directives. Next year will see us finalize the last elements of our strategic plan and start on the next cycle. We will consolidate and intensity our advocacy efforts. We will also be turning our attention to the looming budget cuts as well as issues affecting our health and safety in the workplace. For more details on all of this, I invite you to watch my presentation.

The second annual Randy Orr Memorial Award
Immediately following the AGM a ceremony was held to present the second annual Randy Orr Memorial Award for volunteer service to the Foreign Service community. I am pleased to announce that he 2023 Randy Orr Memorial Award was awarded to a group of three of our colleagues: Melanie Bejzyk, Mark Allen and David Da Silva. Together, they were instrumental in formalizing the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) Pride Network in 2017. They efforts successfully brought together 2SLGBTQI+ employees, both in Canada and at missions abroad, to work on a set of three common goals: to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace; to provide better information and protections abroad for 2SLGBTQI+ employees and their families; and to foster a more supportive department.

They also encouraged GAC to work with Canadian missions across the globe to create the 2SLGBTQI+ Accreditation and Living Conditions tool. This tool provides information vital to 2SLGBTQI+ employees seeking to serve abroad. From accreditation to legal status, access to health care, social conditions and the prevalence of violence, this tool has allowed PAFSO members in the community to make informed posting decisions that ensure their mental and physical well-being, as well as that of their families, while serving Canada abroad.

For all their selfless dedication to colleagues and the wider FS 2SLGBTQI+ community, Melanie Bejzyk, Mark Allen and David Da Silva receive the 2023 Randy Orr Memorial Award. A recording of the ceremony is available here on our YouTube channel.

PAFSO Virtual Breakfast with the Canadian Labour Congress on November 15 at 0900
Our next virtual breakfast will take place on Wednesday, November 15, with Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and her Political Assistant, Tim Deelstra. We will talk to them about the important work of the Congress and the issues facing the Canadian and international labour movements. If you’d like to join us for what promises to be an interesting discussion, please register here.

AmbCanada writer’s luncheon and hybrid webinar, 11:30, Wednesday, November 22
Our good friends at AmbCanada wanted me to let you know that they will be holding their annual writer’s luncheon at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Gatineau on Wednesday, November 22. The cost is $38 per person. The current speaker lineup includes four AmbCanada members, Roxanne Dubé, Marie Gervais-Vidricaire, Hugh Stephens and Chris Thompson. For those who cannot make it in person, the event can also be attended virtually via Zoom. Registration to this event – both in person or online – is required. Please email info@ambcanada.ca no later than 16 November and they will send you details on how to register and make your payment.

That should bring you up to date on a very busy couple of weeks here at PAFSO. If there’s anything concerning you about your situation at work, just reach out to us. Make sure to include your name, department, and a detailed description of the issues you are facing. We’ll connect you to one of our Labour Relations Advisors who will be happy to assist you. For all other questions, just email info@pafso.com and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

We’ll talk again in two weeks. In the meantime, if you want my take on current issues, politics, and anything else newsworthy that impacts on our profession, follow me at @PafsoPresApase.

Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld