UPDATED: Canada's diplomats in legal strike position - Macleans.ca

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.


UPDATED: Canada’s diplomats in legal strike position

  1. I didn’t know they could do that.

  2. What? Legally strike when we get shafted by our employer?

    • I thought Harper had made it clear by now: there are no legal strikes anymore; only those he has not yet had the opportunity to legislate out of existence. See e.g. Canada Post; Air Canada.

  3. Is this group largely Canadian serving abroad or foreign nationals hired to work at Canadian missions?

    • Canadian diplomats (and their families) serving overseas.

      • And in Ottawa

  4. Hmmm .. must be Big Union thugee, yes?

  5. I am one of those Canadian diplomats. And I actually do wear pin-striped pants sometimes. But I have also had 4 death threats and had both malaria and dysentery while serving my country abroad. Etc, etc. It’s a tough world out there. Foreign Service officers have a great job and are proud of their work. All we want is a fair shake.

    • “All we want is a fair shake”, ya just a bit more “fair” than everybody else in the PS.

      • Mr. Omen. You disagree that a group of employees doing similar work to another deserves to be compensated in a similar fashion? Upon what do you base this belief, is it an “everyone for themselves, dog eat dog world” approach you advocate?

        • That approach has obviously been taken by the Union. We don’t get everything we want, so in return we punish those that we are here to serve – those caught up in the middle of the strike. Once you have intentionally caused extreme hardship financially and emotionally to the innocent, government starts to listen, right?

          Nothing easier than using the blood of others to get your point across. Selfish and cowardly, but very effective

  6. The salary range quoted in the final paragraph is largely inaccurate, as the Treasury Board website would show. I am a Foreign Service officer, 3 years into the job and will soon be moving up from FS-1 level to the FS-2, and my annual salary is about $65,000. I will need to work a solid decade more before I approach the $82,000 range.


  7. “striped-pant set”? Wow. Tired old cliché right off the bat. Awaiting mentions of champagne, canapés and limos in 10… 9… 8…

    • Not sexist at all, right… ? Love the stereotypes that will come out of this…

  8. Mr. Wells – while we appreciate you drawing attention to the issue, I can confirm for you that Foreign Service pay is considerably less generous than $82,000-$112,000. Foreign Service Officers start at $58,055, and the largest group within PAFSO makes between $65,000 and $80,000 per year.

    • Fixed. Thanks.

    • Wow – particularly considering spouses that accompany diplomats often can’t make the same salaries that they would in Canada, 65-80K a year isn’t a remarkably high salary. At all.

      • Actually rarely can spouse find work and often at much less pay. Basically it’s a one salary world and it carries over to Canada as spouses lose opportunities or advancement back home.

  9. They are over paid like most civil servants compared to Canadians, their not worth it, shut the embassy down in China, we do not need it, immigration from China should be cut back, they cannot speak English, they should not become until they do, learn in China, not here at our expense

    • We’ve likely financed years and years of your education, yet you’re still sub-literate.

      • The correct term is subliterate. I don’t know why you’d hyphenate it, unless you yourself are subliterate.

        • Not-Rick googles for a gotcha and…misses.

          Sorry lil’Ricky, while it may be more common to omit the hyphen it certainly isn’t sub-literate to include one in a word that isn’t in common usage.

    • Hello? Civil servants are Canadians.

      Furthermore, FSOs don’t make policy. They merely implement it. Take your grievances about immigration and foreign affairs to Jason Kenney and John Baird.

    • Before commenting, please inform yourself of the services that embassies provide. It is not only immigration, also consular services, trade promotion, etc.

  10. Not impressed, though not surprised by the reaction of the TBS spokesperson. The list of “top-ups” they provide is known as the “Foreign Service Directives” and is meant to compensate the various costs of serving abroad. While some payments are indeed monetary incentives to serve abroad and in difficult postings, most cover inevitable costs such as relocation, housing, schools for children etc. Even if the total can be quite substantial, it doesn’t replace at all a second income, when most spouses are not able to maintain a career and DFAIT does close to nothing to support employment opportunities for spouses at mission. It should be noted as well that all civil servants posted abroad, not just FSOs, are under the FSDs.

    In any case, Foreign Service Officers only benefit from these FSDs when they are serving abroad, not at headquarters. With the large number of cuts in our network of missions in the past years, the opportunities to serve abroad are increasingly scarce and most FSOs can expect to spend more than half of their career at Fort Pearson, not in the field. And when we’re lucky enough to be posted abroad, the chance is that we will end up in a hardship mission, not Paris or London.

    Yes, these jobs are sought-after, but the price to pay and the negative impact on the family are very substantial. It is called the Foreign SERVICE for a good reason: we have the vocation and we are proud to serve Canada abroad. But equal pay for equal work is the bare minimum we can ask for in return. For years, we were the most underpaid professional group in the public service, and we’re getting there again.

    Does the government envision a Foreign Service of single, young recruits who do one or two postings abroad for the thrill and then move to better paid, steadier jobs outside DFAIT, instead of counting on a team of experienced diplomats? That’s the impression they give, and that would be a huge disservice to Canadians.

    • Agreed,

      Some postings you have no choice but to send your children to private schools, especially when the public schools are not in English or French.

  11. FYI: the “list of housing, schooling and other salary top-ups for diplomats on foreign postings” is meant to ensure that Canadians and their families serving their country abroad enjoy the same standards that they would in Canada. It also applies to any Canadian serving the Government abroad (except military) — not just diplomats.

  12. Most Foreign Service Officers are at the FS-2 level. Only about 10% are at the highest FS-4 step. With cuts last year, various promotion exercises were cancelled and the career path seems quite limited at this point. To quote a former ADM for Human Resources when the FS group was restructured in four levels a few years ago, “our vision is that most FS officers will spend their career at the FS-2 level”. So motivating. Given that situation, the salary gap with comparable civil service groups is really a sore point.

  13. Mr. Clement’s spokesperson has clearly not done his/her homework. While the world has changed, some aspects of FSOs’ life are still stuck in the past. The glamourous diplomatic life does not exist, and the FS is still managed like in the 60s when the spouse was expected to stay home. FS officers and their families pay rent, taxes (but without receiving services such as EA for spouses etc.) just as any Canadian taxpayer. Sure, FSDs do compensate some costs for FS families, for example the cost of living in postings in Europe where everything is very expensive, or schooling to have access to education that meets Canadian standards. But it doesn’t compensate for the fact that you have a Canadian
    family living with ONE INCOME. If you can barely live in Canada with ONE
    INCOME, why should we have to just suck it up abroad?

    TBS obviously forgets that the Foreign Service is not only the employee but the whole family. Spouses usually do not receive much foreign language training and face huge barriers to employment in most postings. But wait a second, DFAIT will probably tell you that there’s a Spousal Employment Policy — well, they rarely apply it because it is a “Policy”, not a “Rule”… Great, right? The truth is, our own Canadian government does not care for Canadian families in the Foreign Service.

    So, there you have highly educated spouses who cannot find a job (including the Embassy), who fall in depression or who simply decide to stay behind in Canada to be able to keep their own careers. Does it work? Not always, just check on the divorce rate for the department. Are you willing to maintain a long-distance relationship for 3 years, or are you willing to quit your job to go on a posting where you can be killed, raped, etc. with no compensation?

    This is not just the Foreign Service Officers’ fight. There’s a huge number of dependents behind them who also want some recognition and respect from their partner’s employer. A just salary is a small but important part of it.

    • Your points have the ring of truth, but I’m pretty sure that disingenuous crapweasal mr. Clement knew exactly what he was saying.

  14. It’s always great to see these “hard working public servants” have all the time in the world to comment on internet articles, as is the case with the unionists here.

    • Just FYI – likely any FSO commenting did so after-hours (from a place overseas) or even in Canada (Ottawa)… but you continue to make crazy comments without considering what you are really saying… if I am wrong, feel free to correct me.

      • And you are going to prove this how?

        • I am just pointing out it is idiotic to assume folks commented during the day when the comments show the time done (how many hours) and most you can see are after hours and especially after hours when considering the FSO that are being attacked by the comment, are abroad as well… also, I asked for proof first. So there.

    • Considering how often you post on here, if posting on Maclean’s is a reflection of how little they work, it doesn’t speak well of your work ethic either, Rick.

  15. One wonders if the Conservatives have any clue as to what they are doing with their cuts. For example, they eliminated visa processing in Malaysia and have it done in Singapore where costs in every aspects is higher. Why? Not only is tourism affected (more Malaysians visit and study in Canada than Singapore), but costs overall has gone up in the processing office in Singapore. Where is the savings?

    • Although I appreciate your attempt to blame it all on the EEEEVIL Conservatives, cuts to specific Embassies are done by DFAIT as part of departmental operations, not Cabinet.

      • Visa processing is CIC, not DFAIT.

  16. Going on posting has been my worse financial decision!

  17. Going on posting has been my worse financial decision.

  18. Helping to evacuate Canadians from Lebanon in 2006 is my proudest moment as a Canadian diplomat. I recall Foreign Service Officers buying cleaning supplies of their own initiative with their own money to clean the bathrooms in the sea port so that evacuees had a decent place to clean-up in after their long boat rides. And no, none of us were
    wearing striped-pants or ball gowns when we were happily scrubbing out the
    sinks, toilets and urinals…

  19. We are panic.we are waiting for visa.already 3 years over.submitted passports.because of this pp submission we lost our good jobs abroad.now they are not sending pp back with visa.plz stop ur strike..we are in great pain.plz plz.God bless u all..

    • I am with Sajalk … waiting and waiting for permanent resident status and our family continues to live in 2 worlds. I wonder how many people are not able to be together and are in a position to do nothing and just wait. Just praying for a resolution soon!

  20. So many hopeless families .. families with broken hearts .. praying to unite with those who they love and missing everyday ..confused children .. confused life future.. depressions ..hopeless endless waiting time …. Waiting and waiting month and years for family reunions .. .. so many families are separated .. this strike makes world more sad .. people selling other people out for money .. we are forgetting to love and help each other .. God bless all people specially those who lost temporarily their connections with God and think money will make them more happy .. GOOD BLESS CANADA OUR QUEEN AND ALL PEOPLE WHO WORK AND LIVE IN OUR BEAUTIFUL CANADA WITH HOPE AND PRIDE.