The ongoing strike by Canada's foreign service officers is a step closer to being settled after the federal government said today it is willing to accept the union's offer to send the contract dispute to arbitration.
But that willingness comes with conditions, which are now being reviewed by the union.
The union representing the 1,350 workers, the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, made the arbitration offer on Thursday and set a deadline for the government to respond by today at noon.
Just shy of the deadline Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board and the minister responsible for the negotiations, issued a statement saying the government is willing to enter into arbitration "subject to certain conditions."
"These conditions are subject to negotiation confidence and cannot be shared publicly. We will continue to bargain in good faith and we appreciate the bargaining agent's efforts at finding a resolution to the strike," the statement said.
"It is important to note that foreign service officers have unique jobs that cannot be compared to others. These jobs are substantively different from public service lawyers, economists or commerce officers. The foreign service also has no recruitment or retention issues," it said.
After Clement's statement was issued, the union responded by saying in a statement that it was reviewing the conditions and will follow up with Treasury Board.
"PAFSO will need to assure itself that any arbitration mechanism allows for a full and fair hearing of arguments on both sides — an objective we are sure the government shares," it said. The union added that it appreciates the government's attempt at finding a resolution and is hopeful that "a way forward can be agreed upon by both parties."
The two sides have been locked in a stalemate for months and haven't been able to find common ground on one major issue — pay.
Strike is slowing down visa applications
The union says foreign service workers don't get equal pay for the same work done by other federal bureaucrats. The government says foreign service officers are paid well, enjoy many benefits and that their jobs are highly sought after.
Neither side has budged on the salary issue.
The union has been staging rotating job actions since the spring and they've caused a slowdown in visa applications at embassies around the world. That has the tourism and education sectors concerned about the impact and they've been urging a resolution to the conflict.
"Our goal is to have diplomatic, consular and other services to Canadians fully restored as quickly as possible. We continue to take steps to ensure the timely processing of visas," Clement said in his statement Tuesday.
The union said it would update its members and the public once it had more information to share about the arbitration offer.