Foreign service demonstrates for wage hike

About 250 diplomats took their fight for higher pay to the streets Monday afternoon. They carried signs that read: "Overseas, Overworked, Underpaid, Undervalued."

The foreign service officers demonstrated during the lunch hour in front of the Lester B. Pearson Building, where the prime minister is meeting with his cabinet.

The officers say they want to let Jean Chrétien and his ministers know that those who work for foreign affairs are not being paid enough. They say they make $10,000 to $15,000 less than colleagues doing similar jobs in other government departments.

The diplomats do everything from negotiating business deals to laying the ground work for the prime minister's trade missions abroad. But so far they've been unable to negotiate what they consider a fair wage from their own country. The foreign affairs officers have been without a contract since last June.

Three months ago, they rejected Treasury Board's offer of two per cent, demanding at least double that amount.

"For me personally it's about trying to make a living," says Katherine Foster.

Foster has been a diplomat for six months. She's working on a major initiative called "Security and Peace Building" for Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

Foster makes a starting wage of $37,000 a year.

"I'm 33. I was making this wage ten years ago when I only had a BA," says Foster. "I now have two Masters degrees and three years of my doctorate. And I'm trying to pay all that off and trying to scrape by."

In fact, many of the diplomats walking up and down the the sidewalk had similar stories of economic hardship.

Now Foster and her colleagues are demonstrating their displeasure to cabinet ministers, many of whom depend on their work when travelling overseas.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) started the campaign at the Washington embassy six months ago.

Dan George is president of PAFSO. He says if the government doesn't give the foreign service officers a pay raise soon, many of the workers will be leaving for the private sector.