As Canadian foreign service officers continue job actions both at home and abroad, the union representing the striking diplomats says visa applications are backed up by the thousands at key Canadian missions.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), representing 1,350 non-executive-level diplomats, staged a mass walkout June 6 in Ottawa and at Canadian diplomatic posts around the world.
As of Friday, approximately 300 workers had walked off the job as part of the union’s rotating job actions. According to PAFSO President Tim Edwards, the union is focusing job actions at missions where striking will have the strongest impact.
PAFSO employees are currently striking in London, Paris and Ireland, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper is touring ahead of the G8 summit in Dublin. They demonstrated in front of Westminster in London Thursday, where Harper addressed the UK parliament, and at various landmarks in Paris for the prime minster’s visit there.
But a large bulk of the impact is being felt at the Canadian missions in Mexico City, Beijing and Delhi, where all Canadian immigration officials are on strike.
Edwards said visa processing times have been dramatically affected by the strike. For instance, in Mexico City, he said the typical backlog is 500 visa applications in queue, but the strike has pushed that number to more than 7,000. And in Delhi and Beijing, Edwards suspects the impact is even worse.
“The pace in Delhi and Beijing as our two largest processing centres is much larger,” said Edwards. “It would be thousands – potentially tens of thousands – of applications that are backed up.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) also recognized the impacts of the PAFSO strike in a post on its website June 11.
“Posted processing times for both temporary and permanent resident visa applications do not take into account work stoppages,” read the notice. ”Anyone applying for a visa should anticipate delays and submit their application as far in advance as possible.”
CIC said contingency plans are in place to ensure all offices remain open to provide at least a minimum level of service. The department did not return iPolitics’ request for more information about those contingency plans.
According to Edwards, priority is being placed on temporary resident visa applications. As a result, some permanent resident applications are being set aside. PAFSO members are also on strike at the Canadian missions in Kazakhstan and Hong Kong.
The diplomats, who have been in a legal strike position since April 2 and without contract since June 2011, are demanding equal pay for equal work. Edwards said the union’s diplomats are not being paid as much as government professionals who perform the same type of work. He said some “less senior” diplomats earn up to $14,000 less than colleagues doing the same work in Ottawa.
However, Treasury Board believes PAFSO members have been presented with a fair offer.
“The Foreign Service is a well-paid and highly sought after posting. In addition to salaries that often go into six figures, foreign service workers enjoy generous benefits worth tens of thousands of dollars per individual,” said a Treasury Board spokesperson in an email.
Some of those perks include a reimbursement of up to 50 per cent for dry cleaning expenses, the shipment of personal vehicles and household items such as furniture to the diplomat’s posting, and a foreign service incentive allowance recognizing the challenges associated with living abroad.
But Edwards said the benefits are not sufficient in comparison the hardships diplomats experience when living abroad. For instance, he cited the foreign service incentive allowance.
“These offset payments do not come anywhere near compensating for the loss of a second salary when our spouses are forced to quit their jobs to accompany us abroad,” said Edwards. “In a day and age when two incomes are the norm in Canada, two pensions are the norm in Canada, our members make an enormous sacrifice in terms of their annual income in order to represent Canada.”
PAFSO said that until the Treasury Board returns to the bargaining table with a satisfactory offer on pay, the union is prepared to continue its rotating job actions. Edwards even looked as far ahead as September, discussing the impact the strike could have when the United Nations General Assembly and other summit meetings kick off in the fall.
“We’re prepared to see this through. If it takes that long, then so be it. We are certainly ready to go back to the table any day the government’s ready to make us a reasonable offer and to show one inch of compromise, which they haven’t yet to date.”