The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) union is currently taking strike action. PAFSO union members responsible for processing visa applications have been walking out of offices in Canada and overseas without advance notice. Posted processing times for both temporary and permanent resident visa applications do not take into account work stoppages. Anyone applying for a visa should anticipate delays…” – this sign warns everyone on the official site of the Government who needs a visa to visit, study, work or immigrate to Canada.  This job action has reach the 6 month mark.
According to the website of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers the union which represents Canada’s non-executive diplomats decided to go on strike in mid-March 2013 to bolster their position at the bargaining table as the negotiations with the Treasury Board about their wage hikes broke off in January 2013. Their claim is equal pay for equal work. According to the Association, Foreign Service officers are subjected to a series of unfair and demoralizing wage gaps at all four levels of their pay scale compared to other federal professionals performing similar or identical work and in many cases working next to each other.
What has happened so far?

The Foreign Service workers entered into a legal strike position on April 2nd and a week later the began work-to-rule actions.  They refused to work overtime, check their mobiles or e-mails out of business hours or perform any tasks that were not included in their job descriptions.  After a month of “useless” attempts to restart the negotiations with the Treasury Board the strike escalated.  Union members began targeted walkouts in select missions abroad and at their headquarters in Ottawa and a so called rotating strike of 1.300 workers began. In addition approximately 150 officers walked out of offices at the 15 busiest processing centers including Beijing, New Delhi, Mexico City, Moscow, Shanghai, Hong Kong and London.  The union is trying to do it’s best to draw the Government’s and the public’s attention to their situation, they are holding information pickets, organizing rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Office as well as at Canadian missions worldwide and the union has even created a Twitter campaign explaining their claims.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers achieved its goal to restart the negotiations with the Treasury Board but the bargaining broke off in June.  The negotiators failed to converge and a war of words begun. The union blames the Treasury Board saying they offered the same wage hiking as they did in the fall of 2011 with no room for negotiation and accuse the federal government of bargaining in bad faith. According to the Treasury Board their offer is fair and acceptable and similar to those signed in other parts of the public service and they assured the union that they are bargaining in good faith.
It must said that while the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers and the Treasury Board fight with each other, the real loser is Canada and those who need a visa to enter to Canada for any reason. The strike has caused a massive backlog in Canadian visa applications by students, temporary workers and tourists from around the world which negatively affects the economy, losing possible hundreds of million dollars in income from tourism lost business opportunities, not to mention skilled workers and potential foreign students. On the other hand we must add that the Foreign Service officers are not on a full strike and are still processing visas for refugee claimants.
Cross your fingers,  lets hope that the negotiating partners will make a deal soon as the costs of their disagreement  are only increasing and we (every Canadian) are the ones who will have to pay the bill.

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