UPDATED: Canada’s diplomats in legal strike position

Paul Wells on the potential for a strike by foreign-service officers

[UPDATES below with comment from the foreign-service union — pw]

Your honour, the striped-pant set is revolting. Well, threatening to. This appeared today on the website of the union representing Canada’s foreign-service officers:

“In recent contract negotiations, the Government of Canada has proposed to keep paying us much less than workers who do similar jobs in federal government offices in Canada. In some cases, these workers make as much as $10,000 more than us, even though they don’t face the same challenges that we do.”

The union, PAFSO, announces (quietly; colleagues I checked with were surprised to hear this, and there has been almost no Twitter traffic about the impasse in contract negotiations with Treasury Board) that it is in a legal strike position. There is also word of unspecified job action, apparently already underway: I heard about this from people who are trying to plan into next week with Canadian missions abroad and have been receiving maybes in return.

I’ve sought reaction from Tony Clement’s office and from the PAFSO union and will have more in the morning.


UPDATE: OK, so it took until the afternoon. I got a call from Tim Edwards, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers. Here’s some of what he told me.

First, the dispute is about non-executive foreign-service officers. So, not ambassadors. But it does include people in visa processing, trade promotion, public affairs and most of the other jobs at Canadian missions abroad, as well as the same people when they’re rotating home to Canada.

This is the third labour dispute in a little over a decade, Edwards told me. In 2001 foreign-services officers struck for a pay increase. In 2005 they had a job action much like the one they’re undertaking now. This will be handy context for people eager to attribute all of this dispute to Stephen Harper: the union ran into conflict under the Chrétien and Martin governments too. While Edwards said individual union members may have concerns about the government’s foreign-policy stances, the reduced opportunity for professional advancement, the shrinking number of available foreign postings, or what have you, the specific bone of contention for the union is wages.

The union offered to give up its wage increase demands in January in return for the “template” wage package being offered across most of the public service, which is 1.5%. But it is sticking to its guns on a pay-equity demand, which is that its members want to be paid as much as members of other unions working similar jobs in different unions. This is largely explained in the union blog post I linked above.

PAFSO members make between $82,000 $58,000 [oops] and $112,000 a year depending on their classification. Edwards said their job action begins with “e-picketing,” which entails merely sending out emails with information like the piece I quoted above, and will ramp up as the dispute continues. There have been no contract talks since Jan. 31; Edwards said the offer from the Treasury Board is the same now as two years ago.

Still waiting for comment from Treasury Board. [UPDATER! WEDNESDAY AFT] Got it. A spokesperson for Treasury Board minister guy Tony Clement told me these foreign-service jobs constitute “highly sought-after and well paid postings” and said the government will “continue to bargain with PAFSO in good faith to reach a reasonable settlement.” I was also encouraged to peruse this list of housing, schooling, and other salary top-ups for diplomats on foreign postings.