Update from the President of PAFSO for December 17, 2021

Dear Members,

Here we are at the end of 2021 already. It’s been yet another difficult year for us all with so many challenges and uncertainties. But through all the various waves and variants, we once again showed our resilience and adaptability and made it through another complicated twelve months together.

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, which spreads as much as ten times faster than either the original virus or the Delta variant, the world could be facing the most difficult period of the pandemic yet. A travel advisory calling on Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country is now in place, and provincial and local governments are beginning to implement a range of restrictions. Yesterday, the Public Service Occupational Health Program updated its COVID-19 guidance to call on employees to get third doses of vaccinations where available, instruct departments to pause the implementation of return to the workplace measures and encourage remote work where possible, require masks at all times in the workplace, and cancel all non-essential travel.

Just today, the Employer announced a return to the policies in place on 15 November. These policies allowed for the short-term use of 699 leave in situations where an employee needs to care for a child, family member or other dependent due to the unexpected loss of child care arrangements and  in other COVID-related circumstances such as the need to supervise someone who is self-isolating or needs to get tested. Requests will be assessed by managers on an individual basis. Please note that while flexibility is encouraged, 699 will not be authorized in cases where school or caregiving arrangements are available, but the employee chooses not use them. The mandatory vaccination policy also remains in place.

Since Deputy Ministers have discretion to adapt these measures to their departments’ circumstances, we don’t yet know exactly what these new measures mean for GAC and IRCC, nor do we have details on how they will be implemented at missions abroad. I also realize that many of you will be concerned about what travel restrictions mean for those of you who are subject to the Foreign Service Directives. Rest assured we will be pursuing these issues and will share any details we get. We are also joining the other Bargaining Agents to call on the Chief Human Resources Officer to a stronger leadership role by ensuring that boosters are provided to all essential federal workers, and to issue clear guidance to Deputies to encourage remote work wherever possible. Your safety in the workplace must be given top priority.

Despite this uncertainty it is important to reflect on what we did manage to accomplish this year. At PAFSO, both the staff and the executive worked diligently to deliver on our mission of defending your rights at work and promoting our profession. We secured additional compensation for our members impacted by the Phoenix pay system. We worked with the Employer to facilitate the roll out of vaccinations for employees and accompanying family members at missions abroad. We also contributed to the development of the various return to the workplace frameworks which will be deployed when the conditions of the pandemic allow.

Recently we have had some more good news. Just this week, it was announced that the home office expense deduction for 2021 has been increased to $500. This will apply for both the 2021 and 2022 tax years. You can read more about it in Minister Freeland’s Economic and Fiscal Update 2021.

Also, this week PAFSO signed a memorandum of understanding with Treasury board that will lift the moratorium on automatic cash-outs of excess leave, effective March 31, 2022. The cash-out process has been designed in such a way as to reduce the number of payments made by the Employer, and to reduce the tax burden of these payments on our members. You can read in greater detail about the MOU here.

2021 was also a year of successes in several other of our endeavours. After a year’s hiatus, we saw the return of the PAFSO Awards. Though we all missed gathering for the gala dinner, we still got the chance to celebrate our colleagues’ exceptional achievements. We worked with AMBCANADA to establish the Deborah Chatsis Indigenous Scholarship in International Affairs. I was also pleased to see the Executive Committee approve the Randy Orr Memorial Award for service to the Foreign Service community, in memory of our long-serving colleague. In January, we will begin to work on the first award, which will be given in 2022.

This year also saw the relaunch of our flagship magazine, bout de papier – and its very first digital incarnation at boutdepapier.ca. Our AGM was once again held virtually, which allowed for greater participation from members around the world. And in that same week, we held our most ambitious professional conference ever: five full days of roundtable and panel discussions focused on the secrets of our craft. We also saw our virtual breakfast series grow in 2021. Our last installment took place just last week when we were joined by Carol Bujeau, long-time member of the FS community and author of Triple Sex & Other Tales from an Ambassador’s Wife. In case you missed Carol’s lively accounts of the experience of the diplomatic spouse, you can watch a recording of the session here. And if you missed any of our great breakfasts, you can find them all in this YouTube playlist.

For me, 2021 closes with a great deal of pride in what we were able to achieve in the face of yet another pandemic year. 2022 is going to be another big year for PAFSO. Not only will we be returning to the bargaining table later in the year, but we will also be starting the next cyclical review of the FSDs. Our experiences from the past two years are sure to shape our expectations for both of those undertakings. As I’ve mentioned previously, we will be reaching out to you all for your ideas and suggestions on these matters in the next few months.

The results of our triennial survey, which just closed last Friday, will provide key information to us as we develop our positions for these important negotiations. I always find it interesting to see how our community evolves over time – not only in terms of its demographics, but with respect to where our priorities lie. We should have something to share with you in the first few weeks of the new year.

And perhaps the biggest undertaking for PAFSO in 2022 will be the first direct election of the full-time paid president. This will be the culmination of a long-running pilot project that began over three years ago and culminated in the most significant change to the governance structure of our association in its 56-year history. We will have much more to share on the election process early in the New Year.

As always, if you have any concerns about your situation at work, Executive Director Kim Coles is your first point of contact. Just send her an email describing your circumstance and she will put you in touch with our labour relations team. For all other questions, please send an email to info@pafso.com.

I see great hope for the start of 2022. I know we are not done with this virus yet. And, of course, there are still so many reasons to stay vigilant. But pediatric vaccines and boosters have begun to arrive at missions abroad already, and starting early next month, booster shots will be available for nearly everyone across Canada. It’s just another layer of protection to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. And that, for me, brings a greater sense of security for the winter months ahead.

If you would like to connect with colleagues before we say farewell to 2021, please join me for our last regular morning coffee on Wednesday, 22 December, at 1030. The Executive Director of GAC’s Assignments and Pool Management Division will be joining us as a special guest to answer your questions and chat about issues including the recently announced FS03 competition. You can register for the session here.

I hope that over the next few weeks everyone gets a chance to rest, recharge and reconnect with family and loved ones. I wish you all the very best for the holiday season. We’ll chat again in the new year.

Until then, stay safe. Take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld

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