Canadian Foreign Service Workers Union Offers Binding Arbitration

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for protecting Canadians from a growing federal debt burden and tax load, has until Tuesday to accept PAFSO’s offer to enter into binding arbitration to end the pay dispute (Government of Canada)

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) has offered to enter into binding arbitration with the federal government to end the strike of its members and with it, the disruption to permanent residency and visa issuance.

PAFSO is giving the government until Tuesday to accept the offer before it is rescinded. Treasury Board President Tony Clement must decide whether to accept the deal, which would give a third party arbitrator final say as to what the new compensation scheme for Canada’s foreign services will be, or stick with the government’s current proposal.

The strike is delaying the processing of visa applications, which has elicited warnings from various groups, including the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and Nova Scotia’s premier, that the continuation of the strike will cost the Canadian economy by reducing the number of tourists and international students that land in Canada.

The federal government is aware of the damage the strike is doing but says the offer it has already proposed is fair because foreign service officers receive a special foreign allowance that makes up for their salaries being lower than that of other public servants.

The government also says that foreign service jobs are highly sought after in Canada which indicates the compensation offered is sufficient.

PAFSO has responded that the foreign allowance is not a special benefit to foreign service officers, as all Canadian public servants working overseas receive it, regardless of their division.

This, according to the foreign service officers union, makes the government’s proposed compensation scheme, which would give a foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale at the maximum experience-grade $87,000 per year, unfair, as it would still be $11,000 less than what a comparatively experienced public servant in the commerce division would receive.

The government has been reluctant to increase its offer however, saying that the PAFSO strike is an attempt to ‘blackmail’ Canada by withholding a vital service.

Clement has said that a more generous offer would be unfair to Canadians who would have to foot the bill, a suggestion that the government believes the compensation offered is adequate for attracting qualified individuals to fill the foreign service positions.

Canadian Foreign Service Officers Picket in Front of PM Office

Members of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) picketed in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday (GOOGLE MAPS)

Canadian diplomatic staff belonging to the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), a union for foreign service officers employed with the Canadian government, held a picket outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday to draw attention to their strike.

The dispute is over claims by PAFSO that foreign service officers receive less pay than public servants in similar position in other departments of the federal government.

For example, a foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale starts out making $65,304 per year, which can increase to up to $82,630 with experience. The Treasury Board has offered to raise the maximum pay for foreign services on the level-2 pay scale to about $87,000. PAFSO says this is still not enough, as it is about $11,000 less than comparatively experienced employees at the same level in the commerce division.

The federal government says that positions in Canada’s foreign service are highly sought after, and earn benefits not available to other public servants, like partial reimbursement for dry cleaning, a vehicle, and an incentive allowance for working outside the country.

PAFSO members say these overseas benefits are available to all federal public servants that work overseas, including those working in federal departments which have employees that receive higher salaries than comparable foreign service officers, so don’t compensate for the pay deficiency of foreign service officers relative to other federal employees.

Strike action by PAFSO is affecting services at Canadian missions in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

There is concern that delays in processing visas as a result of the strike will hurt Canada’s tourism industry

Half a Million Visitor Visas Issued so far in 2012

10 percent more visitor visas have been issued so far this year than this time last year. The "Honeymoon Capital of the World", Niagara Falls, is Canada's top tourist spot (Ujjwal Kumar)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced last week that it has issued 500,000 temporary visitor visas in 2012, a 10 percent increase from the number issued this time last year.

The total number of people who visit Canada far exceeds the number of temporary visas issued, as ninety percent of international visitors to Canada are from one of the over 50 countries whose citizens do not need a visa to visit Canada, including the US which is the source of 76 percent of foreign visits to Canada.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian province that attracts the most foreign visitors every year is the country’s largest and most populous, Ontario. British Columbia and Quebec are the second and third most visited provinces, respectively.

Niagara Falls, Ontario remains far and away the most popular tourist destination in Canada, with an estimated 12 million people visiting it each year.