More than a two dozen Canadian diplomats walked off the job in Washington, D.C., on Friday, part of a global effort to pressure the federal government to offer foreign service officers a better deal on pay rates.
The Washington walkout is in addition to the 12 Canadian missions around the world where diplomats withdrew their service on Thursday. The list includes some of Canada's largest immigration processing centres and diplomatic missions abroad, and the foreign service officers' union has warned the work stoppages could affect Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trip to Europe for the G8 summit next week – a claim the government disputes.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers says its members are paid substantially less than other public servants who do similar work in Canada and has been gradually escalating job actions in an effort to force the federal government to offer bigger pay increases. This week's decision to withdraw services at multiple missions abroad represents a significant escalation from the union's previous activities.
But Canada's top diplomats in London and Paris say the job actions are having no impact and won't affect Mr. Harper's trip next week to England, France and Ireland.
Lawrence Cannon, Canada's ambassador to France, and Gordon Campbell, Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, confirmed that while some staff have walked off the job, they represent a small fraction of the staff working in Paris and London.
The two diplomats spoke to reporters in Ottawa on a conference call focused on Mr. Harper's trip to Europe, which begins on Tuesday in advance of the June 17-18 meetings of the G8 in Ireland.
"In London there's 12 officers that have been off for the last day-and-a-half and as was mentioned earlier, the planning for the Prime Minister's trip has been well in hand and we've got contingencies in place. I'm sure the trip will be a success here in London," said Mr. Campbell, a former B.C. premier.
Mr. Cannon, who will also be hosting Mr. Harper during the trip, expressed a similar view.
"I think that basically the department has put in place contingency plans to be able to address any job actions including work stoppages, so to date, there's been no impact on operations here in Paris," said Mr. Cannon, a former Conservative foreign affairs minister who was defeated in the 2011 federal election and appointed ambassador last year.
"Obviously the department is monitoring the situation very closely and we will take, with the department, all necessary steps to ensure, and provide [support] obviously, for the Prime Minister's visit," he said.
Mr. Cannon said about seven people have walked off the job at the Paris embassy.
"Obviously the visit preparations are well underway. We'll be well-served while we're there," said Andrew MacDougall, the Prime Minister's director of communications. "The Prime Minister's certainly prepared for a good series of meetings and summit and I won't comment on the negotiations as they're ongoing but I have every confidence that we'll be able to do everything we need to do while we're over in Europe including hold bilateral meetings and have a successful summit."
PAFSO president Tim Edwards has said the job actions will result in a significant backlog at immigration processing centres and could infringe on Canada's trade and investment priorities.
The union says its 1,350 members are paid $3,000 to $14,000 less than their counterparts in Canada. It is asking for changes to the Treasury Board's pay scales for diplomats to bring them up to the same levels.
For example, an experienced foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale makes about $83,000 a year, which would increase to about $87,000 under the Treasury Board offer, Mr. Edwards said. That would still be about $11,000 less than the salary of employees at the same level in the commerce division.
Mr. Edwards said the union made several concessions in bargaining, including accepting a cap on annual pay increases and the loss of severance for resignations and retirements. The union has been without a contract since June, 2011.
A spokesman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement said earlier this week that the government made a fair offer.
"The foreign service is a highly sought after and well-paid posting," Matthew Conway wrote in an e-mail. "It is unfortunate that the union is attempting to take their labour demands out on Canadians. We expect that any job action will respect the bounds of the law."
Unionized foreign service officers walked out of the following missions on Thursday and remained off the job on Friday, according to PAFSO:
- Tokyo – all eligible staff
- Beijing – Immigration section
- Hong Kong – all eligible staff
- Shanghai – Immigration section
- Delhi – Immigration section
- Chandigarh – Immigration section
- Tel Aviv – all eligible staff
- Ramallah – all eligible staff
- Paris – all eligible staff (except for OECD)
- London – all eligible staff
- Ireland – all eligible staff
- EU in Brussels – all eligible staff