Pin Stripes on the Picket Lines? Why the Plight of Canadian Diplomats Matters – Part II

The rub

The Government of Canada should be doing everything in its power to support its employees on the foreign policy front lines. Alas, for diplomats this is not the case. Years of underinvestment, exacerbated by over $300 million in cumulative cuts imposed on DFAIT by the 2012 federal budget, have severely degraded the work environment.

Add to that what amounts to bad faith bargaining and the lingering absence of a contract, and all elements are in place for a perfect storm of labour unrest.

Still, PAFSO is hardly the radical fringe. Its leadership recognizes that these are hard times most everywhere and is not seeking an unreasonable settlement. Significant concessions have been offered on severance pay (agreement to its elimination) and across-the-board wage increases (acceptance of something in the range of 1.5% per year).

PAFSO is firm, however, in its insistence that the matter of providing equal pay for equal work be addressed squarely in any settlement. Many Foreign Service Officers are today receiving substantially less in compensation than the members of other, non-rotational occupational groups (economists, commerce officers, lawyers) who are doing exactly the same or similar work, often in the same division. This differential varies from several thousand to several tens of thousands of dollars per year, and the spread is growing.

Morale and collegial co-habitation have suffered accordingly.

Beyond impasse

The Government remains intransigent, if not hostile. Treasury Board has rejected the non-binding recommendations of the independent Public Interest Commission. It refuses even to discuss the issue of comparative compensation. The employer appears prepared to force PAFSO members into the embrace of increasingly serious and disruptive job action, in hope that that this will elicit widespread public and media condemnation of the “spoiled diplomats.”

Such tactics are most regrettable. Recall, for instance, the disastrous inefficiencies, administrative overheads and management confusion which attended the efforts first to remove, and then to restore the trade department within the foreign ministry 2004-06. Based upon that experience, the recent decision to integrate CIDA into DFAIT would have been difficult at the best of times. The disaffection engendered by the current contract dispute can only worsen the prospects for a successful merger.

At the end of the day, all of this is particularly unsettling because in the age of globalization, diplomacy and development assistance must be more intimately and seamlessly intertwined. We live on a small planet beset by a host of perils – climate change, environmental collapse, diminishing biodiversity, pandemic disease – none of which are amenable to military solutions. Our best hope lies in addressing these challenges through knowledge-based problem-solving and complex balancing, backed by dialogue, negotiation and compromise.

In other words, security is not a martial art. Diplomacy, not defence is the best way forward. Yet unless and until our diplomatic capacity is unbound, rather than not constrained or debilitated, the foreign ministry will never perform anywhere near its potential.

Canada’s place in the world will slide further.

Diplomacy’s decline has been in train for decades, but the present situation represents a new low. The continued battering of the Foreign Service is inimical to the national interest. To advance the prosperity, security and well-being of Canadians, the government should return immediately to the bargaining table with a mandate to reach a fair and equitable settlement.

The Foreign Service, and the country deserve no less.