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Politics Foreign service officers protest PMO over stalled labour negotiations

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) President Tim Edwards is interviewed as he protests with Canadian foreign service officers in front of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, Friday, May 3, 2013. They were calling for wage adjustments and resumption of contract negotiations with the Canadian government.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Ottawa-based foreign service officers protested outside the Prime Ministers' Office Tuesday to call attention to stalled labour negotiations with the federal government.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers entered a legal strike position earlier this year and has instructed members to gradually escalated job actions over recent months. The union says its members, who include immigration officers and economists, are paid significantly less than other public servants who do similar work under different job classifications.

Union members have stopped working overtime and answering job-related phone calls or e-mails after hours, and some have withdrawn their services entirely. Diplomats stationed at missions in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok and Washington are staying off the job this week, in addition to visa and immigration officers at Canada's missions in Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

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On Tuesday, more than 100 Ottawa-based diplomats carried signs and walked in circles on the sidewalk in front of the Prime Minister's Office, across the street from Parliament Hill.

Tim Edwards, PAFSO's president, said the Ottawa picket was aimed at communicating the union's frustration with the negotiation process. He said the union would continue to organize strike actions to coincide with ministers' trips abroad and keep members at some of Canada's busiest visa and immigration offices off the job.

"This is simply going to accumulate," Mr. Edwards said. "It's going to compound over the summer, as the backlogs get longer and longer."

A spokesman from Citizenship and Immigration Canada said all visa offices are still open and providing services, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said the government is doing its best to minimize disruptions to Canadians.

PAFSO says foreign service officers are paid between $3,000 and $14,000 less per year than public servants who do similar work, and it wants the government to address that gap. The union met with Treasury Board representatives at the bargaining table earlier this month but Mr. Edwards said they were offered the same deal on pay that had previously been rejected.

A spokeswoman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement said on Tuesday that the government put forward an offer that is fair to employees and taxpayers, adding that the foreign service is a "highly sought after and well-paid posting."

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