Striking diplomats win labour board ruling

The Public Service Labour Relations Board has ruled that the federal government is not bargaining in good faith in its negotiations with striking diplomats and encouraged all sides to reach a mutually agreeable process to break the impasse.

Labour board rules the federal government is not bargaining in good faith

The union representing Canada's foreign service received a favourable ruling today from the labour board, which agrees the federal government has been bargaining in bad faith. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

The federal government has been bargaining in bad faith in its negotiations with striking diplomats, the Public Service Labour Relations Board ruled on Friday.

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.

Although the board does not recommend any remedial action on the part of the federal government, it does "encourage" all sides to "renew their attempts at arriving at a mutually agreeable process under which final and binding determination … can be used to break their impasse, in the event that their inability to resolve their differences at the bargaining table continues."

Frédéric Fournier, media co-ordinator for the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, told CBC News in an email that "as soon as the secretary of the Treasury Board agrees to binding arbitration with no conditions, work actions would stop immediately as a sign of good faith." 

The labour board began hearing the complaint filed by PAFSO, the union representing Canada's foreign service, on Aug. 21 after the federal government sought to attach six preconditions to the union's offer in July to go to binding arbitration.

At the time, the union said the conditions Treasury Board President Tony Clement wanted to impose at the arbitration table were deemed unreasonable and "paralyzing."

Fournier told CBC News PAFSO is still waiting for Treasury Board to come back to the negotiating table with a revised offer.

Contract dispute drags on

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said, in a statement to CBC News, the Opposition New Democrats agreed with the labour board ruling and called on Clement to "get back to the negotiation table and resolve this dispute through good faith bargaining."

"The Conservative government’s bad faith handling of the labour dispute with Canada’s diplomats is hurting the country’s economy and our image abroad. It has hurt our communities and undermined the important work of our diplomats," Dewar said.

Clement's office had yet to issue a statement by the end of Friday.

The Treasury Board has, in recent weeks, reached settlements with two other public service unions by offering them wage hikes which equal or exceed those requested by the union representing Canada's foreign service.

PAFSO president Tim Edwards, in a written statement on Friday, said the settlements "are proof positive that the government is more than capable of addressing long-standing wage gaps of up to $14,000 between diplomats and other government professionals."

Salary is at the heart of the dispute. Foreign service officers say they don't get equal pay for equal work when compared with government employees who do similar work.

Foreign service officers refused to process visa applications at 15 of Canada's busiest foreign offices for the better part of the summer. They vowed to continue until the government accepts binding arbitration.

In July, Clement and Edwards engaged in a heated exchange on Twitter over the strike by the diplomats.

Following the Twitter spat, Clement told The Canadian Press that striking diplomats should get back to work because he was not about to fold "like a $3 suitcase."

Earlier Friday, Edwards tweeted that foreign service workers would be protesting outside the prime minister's office for an hour on Friday "to remind @PMHarper and @TonyclementCPC of unfinished business."

The labour board hearing the complaint is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal that deals with grievances. It can also act as a mediator in resolving disputes related to collective bargaining.