Striking foreign service officers are withdrawing all services at Canada's 15 biggest visa processing centres abroad starting Monday, following a failed attempt to go to arbitration to settle the bitter contract dispute with the government.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, the union representing the officers, said Friday that Treasury Board President Tony Clement had rejected its offer of binding arbitration because the union wouldn't accept the conditions Clement attached to the offer.
The union began staging rotating job actions in the spring at different embassies and visa processing centres at different times, which has slowed down work abroad but not completely stopped it. Now the union is stepping up its pressure on the government.
"Effective Monday, in order to persuade the government that binding arbitration remains the responsible way forward to resolve our dispute, PAFSO members will withdraw all services until further notice at Canada's fifteen largest visa processing centres abroad," PAFSO said in a statement.
The centres are:
- Abu Dhabi.
- Hong Kong.
- Mexico City.
- Sao Paulo.
"We take no pleasure whatsoever in these strike actions and their real, severe, and mounting effects on the Canadian economy. But it should now be evident to all Canadians that from this point forward the government of Canada bears sole and complete responsibility for these impacts," the union said.
The tourism sectors and education institutions and organizations have been vocal with their concerns about the foreign service strike because of its impact already on the processing of visas. PAFSO encouraged them and others Friday to urge the government to "bargain freely and flexibly."
After the last round of negotiation broke down with no resolution and weeks went by with no talks scheduled, the union proposed to the government that they go to binding arbitration. The government then responded that it would agree, only if the union accepted certain conditions. It wanted the conditions kept confidential.
But in its statement Friday PAFSO shared some of the conditions and said two of them were "so paralyzing that their acceptance would have predetermined the outcome of arbitration in the government's favour and negated the purpose and integrity of the process."
Union accepted some conditions
The government wanted to exclude any mention of other bureaucrats who perform similar work, according to the union, "which has been at the heart of our position since day one."
"Equal pay for equal work," has been the union's slogan throughout the strike and it's the main sticking point in the dispute.
Ending their work action during the arbitration process was another condition the government wanted to impose and is one the union accepted. It also accepted two other conditions, but without accepting all six, the government said no to arbitration.
The union is accusing Clement of "cherry-picking criteria" that would have favoured the government's position and of "negotiating in bad faith."
Clement rejects those accusations. In his own statement released Friday he said the government has put a fair contract offer on the table and it's "disappointed that PAFSO was so quick to reject our willingness to enter into a binding arbitration process that the union itself requested."
He said the Canadian public is concerned about PAFSO's willingness to disrupt international business and tourism during the busy summer season.
"However, we want to reassure Canadians and our international friends that, despite PAFSO's actions, Canada remains open for business, and that we continue to welcome visitors and international students to experience Canada," Clement said.
On Twitter Clement said he couldn't comment on future options but that new Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander "will be able to deal with the resources needed."
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