Canada's striking diplomats have moved closer to the pay equity they wanted, according to details of the tentative agreement provided to CBC News.
The agreement between the union representing foreign service officers and the Treasury Board effectively ends one of the longest strikes in the federal public service. Both sides announced the news on Thursday afternoon.
The agreement, which still needs to be ratified by union members before it can be put in place, moves the union members much closer to salaries equal to other civil servants who do similar work and who sometimes take the place of foreign service officers on postings abroad.
The deal is expected to cost $2.5 million, about 60 per cent of the $4.2 million sought by the union.
Tim Edwards, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), posted the news on Twitter, saying that the two sides had reached a settlement, adding that all strike measures would cease immediately.
"Good news for free collective bargaining," Edwards said.
In a written news statement, Treasury Board president Tony Clement said he was pleased to announce the two sides had reached a deal.
“The settlement represents the efforts of both parties to reach an agreement that is aligned with what was accepted by other public- and private-sector employees," Clement said.
“This is the same balanced and consistent approach which has allowed the government to settle 26 of 27 collectively bargained agreements in the core public administration.”
Salaries would increase
A Facebook message posted privately to union members and obtained by the CBC lays out the proposed agreement.
New pay steps have been added to two of the salary bands, or ranges, with another band having the lowest two steps deleted, so employees in that band start at a higher wage.
Pay steps are gradually increasing pay rates within a salary range.
The wage gap between the more junior FS-02 level of foreign service officers and the same level of commercial officers, who had been earning more, is eliminated, with two new pay steps added. Those workers will get 4.5 per cent increases per step up through the pay scales, rather than four per cent.
The gap between the FS-02s and two competing groups, the commercial officers and economic officers, is small enough "to be considered 'at equivalent level,'" the union said to its members.
The wage gap between the more senior FS-04 level and the most junior level of public service executives is eliminated with the addition of one new pay step, the union told its members, putting the foreign service officers $875 higher at their maximum level.
The mid-range FS-03 level of foreign service officers are losing their two lowest pay steps in the range, bringing the new starting rate for the salary band to $86,604.
The high end of the FS-03 salary range will be almost $110,000 under the new agreement.
Union recommends deal
The F3-03 level is a particular irritant between the union and the government, because there hasn't been a competition to enter that level for several years, leaving many diplomats frozen at the lower FS-02 level as younger colleagues catch up to the same level.
All foreign service officers will get raises of 1.75 per cent, 1.5 per cent and two per cent over the next three years of the contract, in line with other public service settlements. The total 5.25 per cent includes a 0.75 per cent increase to compensate for the loss of severance pay available to public servants who resign or retire.
The contract expires June 30, 2014.
In an interview with CBC News, PAFSO member Chrystiane Roy said: "We are elated. We are very very happy that this is finally over."
Roy said that Treasury Board officials approached the union last week wanting to reach a deal.
She said Clement hosted them today and they signed the agreements together. Roy said PAFSO will recommend the deal to its members and hopes to have a ratification vote within 10 days.
Labour board ruling spurs action
NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar welcomed the news, adding that the dispute could have been avoided if the Conservatives had negotiated in good faith.
"Canada’s international presence depends on the patriotic dedication of our talented foreign service officers. Our diplomats take on personal risk and hardship in being posted abroad — they deserve our respect and gratitude for their service to our country," Dewar said in a written statement.
The Public Service Labour Relations Board ruled on Sept. 13 that the federal government had been bargaining in bad faith in its negotiations with striking diplomats.
The government "violated its duty to bargain collectively in good faith and make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement," concluded the board in its 27-page decision.
Thursday's tentative agreement is the result of "several days of secret negotiations" which began on Sept. 18, a few days following the labour board ruling.
While the federal government had signalled its intent to appeal the ruling with the Federal Court, Roy said PAFSO believes the Sept. 13 ruling helped spur the government to come back to the negotiating table.
Foreign service officers were in a legal strike position since April 2.
The union representing the striking diplomats maintained there was a wage gap of up to $14,000 between diplomats and other government professionals.