Welcome to December. IF there’s one thing that 20 months of pandemic has taught us is that nothing stays the same for very long. The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster as we got good news about vaccinations for children under twelve, followed by the emergence of Omicron, a new viral variant of concern, just as we began to hear some mixed messages concerning our return to the workplace in Canada and at missions abroad.
Although Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children over five years of age is definitely good news, we heard your concerns about the apparent slow rollout to missions abroad. After discussions with senior management at GAC, we learned that the end of January timeline that had been circulated to missions is a worst-case scenario, and many of your families can expect to see the vaccines sooner. The delivery process is complicated and will be affected by several factors including the storage requirement for the vaccine, local regulations governing its administrations, and availability of flights. However, we will be working to ensure that GAC understands the importance of vaccinating these dependents as quickly as possible, both for their protection against COVID-19 and also for the sake of everyone’s psychological well-being. It is essential that our Employer puts health and safety first.
The primacy of your health and safety must also be the guiding principle in the return to the workplace. Since October, the Employer has been preparing for a graduated return and issued new guidance on November 22 which lifts several workplace restrictions, such as capacity limits for boardrooms, cafeterias and elevators. With 96% of employees at GAC fully vaccinated and similar vaccination rates at IRCC, these new guidelines do not give us any immediate cause for concern so long as they are applied with common sense.
Initially, we were pleased to hear talk of a gradual, and measured transition that balanced operational requirements with psychological wellbeing and emphasized flexibility on a timeline measured in months. As usual, the finer details of this reintegration seems to have been left to the discretion of individual managers. Some of our members are now reporting that they are concerned with the manner in which they are being requested to return to the workplace. We understand that this transition will be stressful, however, these arrangements are between you and your managers. This particular issue is not covered by the FS collective agreement, and is not one in which we, as your union, can intervene directly. If you have concerns about the particulars of your return to the workplace, we encourage you to first discuss them with your manager. If, after that, you still feel that accommodations are not being made for your specific individual circumstance, then you can contact us, and we will work with you to assess your situation.
With that said, we have regular discussions with the Employer on these issues and I am hopeful that we will reintegrate gradually, safely and smoothly, with measures in place that recognize the reality of airborne transmission and respect Employee’s individual circumstances. Adjusting won’t be easy at first, but I think we are all looking forward to the personal interactions, informal collaboration and improved team cohesion that working on-site will bring. I think it will be glimpse of normalcy and a great boost to everyone’s psychological wellbeing.
In other news, PAFSO’s 2021 comprehensive members’ survey is set to close next Friday, 10 December. I’d like to thank the hundreds of you who have already taken the time to take the survey. Your answers will help guide our activities for the next three years. If you haven’t already sone so, I encourage you to set aside about half an hour and complete the survey before next Friday. It’s how we get to know you, our members. It’s how we identify and measure any developing trends. And, ultimately, it helps us better represent you. Rest assured that your answers are anonymous, confidential and will only be analyzed in aggregate form.
Join us on Tuesday, 14 December at 0900 Ottawa time for the next installment of our virtual PAFSO Breakfast series. Author and long-time member of the FS community, Carol Bujeau, will be joining us to discuss her new book Triple Sex & Other Tales from an Ambassador’s Wife. Recently reviewed in Ottawa Life magazine, Carol’s book recounts the experience of the diplomatic spouse from the challenges of moving to new places, to raising a family abroad, all while trying to build a career profile while constantly on the move. It is sure to be another lively discussion which I am sure will resonate with many of you. Click here to register, and please take note of the later than usual start time of 0900.
Please remember that our Executive Director, Kim Coles, is your first point of contact if you have any issues with your situation at work. Just send her an email describing your circumstance and she will put you in touch with our labour relations team. If you have any other questions or concerns, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who just want a quick and informal chat, our virtual coffees are still taking place on Wednesdays at 1030, Ottawa time. Register here if you’d like to join in. And, if that particular time doesn’t work for you, just send me an email and we can set find a time that works better for you.
I sense a lot of changes on the horizon as we near the end of a second year of living and working through this pandemic. I know that change can often times be difficult, disruptive and stressful. But what these past 20 months have shown is just how resilient and adaptive we all can be. Even in the face of a new variant of concern, I know that if we wash our hands, stay distanced, get vaccinated (or a booster shot) if we can, and keep a positive attitude, we will get through this together.
We’ll be in touch one more time before the end of the year. Until then, stay safe. Take care of yourselves and each other.
All the best,