Treasury Board President Tony Clement is taking aim at striking foreign service workers, alleging their tactics are "blackmail" and urging the union to accept the government's offer.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers says its members are underpaid compared to other federal employees doing comparable work, and wants wages topped up. Meanwhile, it says rotating strikes are crippling the Canadian tourism sector by, for instance, delaying visa applications. The Tourism Industry Association has predicted the walkouts will cost $280-million in tourism this year.
But Mr. Clement dismissed those claims. "I just don't accept that logic. And quite frankly, if I were to accept that logic, it would give any union at any time a carte blanche to engage in job action to try to basically blackmail the taxpayer into submission. I will tell you I am resolute. I am not about to fold like a three-dollar suitcase on this issue," he said in an interview Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Clement – the government's point man on the public service – took on union president Tim Edwards via Twitter, exchanging public barbs at a time when the two sides are not at the bargaining table.
"Minister, a 'fair offer' would provide pay equal to that of other [Canadian government] professionals doing [the] same work," Mr. Edwards wrote.
"Tweet all you want, Tim, but my fair and reasonable offer still stands. I have the taxpayers on my side," Mr. Clement responded.
Mr. Clement said foreign offices continue to function. But the rotating strikes of 1,300 staff, which began in April, have caused major visa backlogs. Mr. Edwards welcomed the Twitter exchange, saying it's a sign the union has the minister's attention when the government isn't open to negotiation.
"There's clearly no attempt, no reasonable effort at a compromise solution being made here. Absolutely zero flexibility in the government's negotiation position. And as the strike's effects continue to mount, it's having a very serious impact on the Canadian economy," Mr. Edwards said.
The union has agreed to the government's offer of 1.5-per-cent wage hikes, and agreed to scrap severance for staff who leave voluntarily. However, the union wants the increase applied to a pay scale equal to that of other departments, a difference that ranges from $3,000 a year to $14,000 a year per employee. Closing the gap would cost as much as $3-million a year, the union says.
Mr. Clement said the deal, as proposed, is similar to other public-sector contracts and left little room for compromise. "I think the message is: accept our offer," he said.
Mr. Edwards said the strike is a matter of fairness. "This is not an ideological battle," he said. "This is not an issue of a left or right. This is about paying diplomats the same as [is] paid to other government professionals."