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The Globe and Mail

Tentative deal reached with Canada’s foreign-service workers

Hundreds of foreign service officers walks out of Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa on June 6, 2013.

DAVE CHAN/The Globe and Mail

Canada's foreign service has reached a deal on a new contract with the federal government, ending a lengthy dispute and rotating strikes that have slowed visa processing and other consular services abroad.

A summary obtained by The Globe shows the government agreed to boost base pay for senior ranks of the foreign service, bringing it more in line with what the union had argued were comparable positions elsewhere in government. Treasury Board President Tony Clement had previously resisted such a move, arguing the jobs were already well-paid.

In return, the union agreed to standard annual increases the federal government was seeking, and gave up severance pay for those who retire or leave voluntarily – a perk they'd previously received.

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The annual raises are 1.75 per cent, 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent, according to the summary. That's been a standard pursued by Mr. Clement, though in some cases those wages will now apply to higher base salaries.

"This tentative agreement reflects the government's commitment to reaching fiscally responsible settlements that are fair to Canadian taxpayers and to employees," Mr. Clement's office said Thursday, declining to release specifics of the deal with the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) union. The minister later used his Twitter account to publish a photo of him and Mr. Edwards, smiling after signing a deal.

"This agreement was reached through compromises on both sides," PAFSO president Tim Edwards said in a written statement. Strike action will end immediately, he added.

The deal comes after a federal tribunal found that Ottawa had been negotiating in bad faith. The deal still has to be approved by both PAFSO members and the federal Treasury Board.

Both sides had faced widespread calls to reach a deal. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada had warned of visa delays leading to costly drops in the number of international visitors. Early industry figures suggest tourism from major markets had still increased this year from last year, though at a lower growth rate than had been expected.

Universities and others have warned about the impact of a travel visa backlog, though government figures show there's been no pileup of applications over the past two months – waiting times had increased earlier in the summer, but have decreased slightly since July.

The main sticking point hadn't been annual wage hikes, but rather the base wage scale that foreign service officers were placed on. That wage gap that has now been narrowed or eliminated for senior-most positions. It's unclear what, if any, base pay hikes the junior-most officers will get.

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Foreign service officers in the so-called FS-03 group – the third of four levels – saw their two lowest pay levels eliminated, significantly raising their base salary. That group's salary range is now $86,604 to nearly $110,000, according to the summary. Top-ranking foreign service officers, or FS-04s, will now earn slightly more than the lowest-level government executives.

The union had been without a contract since July 1, 2011, and had been in a legal strike position since April of this year. The contract expires June 30, 2014, meaning the two sides will be back at the bargaining table within a year.

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