Foreign service officers promise to suspend strike if bargaining resumes

Mass walkouts in response to government’s appeal of labour relations board ruling
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 09/19/2013

The Government of Canada recently filed an appeal with the federal court, challenging the Public Service Labour Relations Board’s (PSLRB) ruling that it negotiated in bad faith with foreign service employees.

In response, 700 members of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) in the National Capital Region in Ottawa staged a mass walkout. PAFSO’s labour action began six months ago and intensified in June, when bargaining broke down.

In its ruling the PSLRB found that Treasury Board president Tony Clement failed to bargain in good faith when he sought to impose preconditions on the arbitration process in response to PAFSO’s proposal of binding arbitration.

“In her ruling, the adjudicator provided a clear roadmap for both sides to put an end to this damaging dispute: resume negotiations or enter into unfettered binding arbitration,” said PAFSO president Tim Edwards. “We believe that the government should do the responsible thing and heed her advice. Enough time has been wasted already.”

PAFSO represents 1,600 active and retired foreign service employees. The 1,388 foreign service officers involved in the dispute — who work for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada Border Services Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) — have been without a contract since June 2011.

“The appeal unnecessarily prolongs what is already one of the longest strikes in federal public service history, at great cost to the Canadian economy and Canada’s reputation as a destination for tourism, study, and employment — to say nothing of tens of thousands of visa applicants and prospective immigrants whose lives are being put on hold,” said Edwards.

Matthew Conway, press secretary for Clement’s office, said the government filed an application for judicial review to preserve all available options.

“As we have repeatedly stated, the government is committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement for both employees and Canadian taxpayers,” Conway said in an email to Canadian Labour Reporter. “That commitment remains unchanged.”

PAFSO said the Treasury Board has reached settlements with two other public service unions in recent weeks, offering them wage hikes equal to or exceeding those requested by the union.

Edwards spoke with the Ottawa Citizen during a noon-hour picket outside the Sussex Drive headquarters of the DFATD on Sept. 18. He said that while there are currently no plans to resume negotiations, PAFSO is willing to return to the bargaining table at any time, “as long as there is a meaningful attempt at engaging with us and seeking a solution.”

Edwards went on to say that if parties are at the table, “service withdrawals would be temporarily suspended as a gesture of good will to demonstrate our commitment to seeking a compromise solution.”

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