Last Tuesday, more than 100 foreign service officers held a rally in front of various Citizenship and Immigration Canada Offices in the country’s capital to raise awareness about their contract dispute with the Canadian federal government. Simultaneously, a social media campaign that appealed for public support raised awareness about the value of the work performed by the union’s 1, 350 members worldwide.
The protestors were joined in support by representatives from other major unions, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).
The demonstration took part of a long standing dispute. The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO)–the civil servants’ union–has been in a legal strike since April 2, and without a contract since June 2011. It asks for a pay increase due to existing income disparities between junior Foreign Service officers and other colleagues performing similar jobs in other Canadian government agencies.
However, on the other side of the bargaining table, Andrea Mendel-Cambpell, Director of Communications for the Treasury Board, claimed that the union’s demands were unfair. According to Mendel-Campbell, these jobs are not comparable, and the hefty pay increase is therefore unreasonable and unjustly burdensome for taxpayers.
“Our government will consider all options in finding a resolution to this strike. We remain open to a resolution that respects the interests of both taxpayers and Foreign Service union members,” said Mandel-Campbell to CBCnews.
Canadian Foreign Service officers have staged strikes in multiple embassies around the world, in addition to withdrawing a number of immigration-related services in the country, including a recent full withdrawal of visa services at 15 key processing centres. While Citizenship and Immigration Canada has put into force a series of measures to keep up immigration applications, the processing of visas has been severely affected.
The tourism and education sectors have expressed their concern about the fact that the strike has lessened significantly the number of visitors and international students allowed to enter the country. The education sector, in particular, has raised serious concerns about the country’s reputation as a top destination for post-secondary studies taking a severe hit. It has also mentioned the considerable economic losses that the country stands to suffer if it closes its doors to the thousands of foreign nationals who aspire to study in Canada from overseas.
At the root of the issue lies the PAFSO and the Treasury Board’s inability to give in to each other’s demands. In response to recently failed negotiations, the PAFSO claims that job action will continue until the federal government agrees to force both parties to arbitration.
“The responsibility for the current situation now falls squarely with the government. We’ve provided a face-saving and responsible way out by offering binding arbitration,” Said PAFSO President Tim Edwards Edwards in an interview with CBC News
The PAFSO has asked the labour board to seek that both sides initiate arbitration. Decisions upon this demand will be announced within days. In the event that the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB) does not mandate a binding arbitration, the strike risks continuing until October, as the government is not able to legislate the diplomats back to work until the House returns.
FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For the latest updates on Canadian immigration and Canadian diversity, follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.