Strike by foreign service officers could hit Canada’s tourism industry
Published Friday, June 28, 2013 10:00PM EDT
The ongoing strike by foreign service officers could have a serious impact on Canada’s tourism industry, experts say, as the labour dispute causes a lengthy backlog in travel visa applications.
Canadian diplomats have been without a contract since mid-2011, and the 1,350-member union has been in a legal strike position since April.
In the 152 countries where a visa is required to travel to Canada, it typically takes one week to process the application.
However, visas could now be delayed up to three months, as striking foreign service workers vow to increase pressure against the federal government.
“We are now incredibly frustrated and angry that the government has not made a reasonable attempt at seeking a compromised solution here,” Tim Edwards of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers told CTV News.
The union has shut down some services at Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa and at about a dozen missions abroad.
Edwards said a decision has been made not to seek a revised offer from the government.
Instead, he said all future job action will target the government’s political priorities -- such as trips by top cabinet ministers and the prime minister.
“Certainly this goes against every bone in our body. It is not our instinct, nor our profession, to challenge our government so publically,” he said.
Edwards said the typical foreign service worker is paid between $3,000 and $14,000 less than other federal government professionals performing the same work within Canada.
“Lawyers, economists, policy analysts, commerce officers -- they all make much more than we do.”
Edwards said the government has yet to present an offer to the union that’s different than what was presented 20 months ago.
However, the government says that its offer is fair.
“We put forward what we believed to be a very fair, very reasonable offer,” said Andrew Saxton, parliamentary secretary to the Treasury Board president.
Saxton said foreign service workers enjoy “significant benefits” that most Canadians don’t have.
“These are benefits like all-expenses paid vacations to places of their choosing. They can put their children into private schools, and it’s paid for by the Canadian taxpayer. They can move their automobile to locations around the world. They get their dry cleaning paid for.
“We believe these are generous benefits that are part of their total package, including their salary,” he said.
Edwards said that while diplomats do enjoy certain benefits, it doesn’t make up for the loss of a second salary that typically occurs when one’s partner is stationed abroad.
Tourism experts, in the meantime, say the ongoing labour strike could result in a quarter-billion-dollar loss to the Canadian economy.
“I was speaking to a tour operator today. He's losing a $400,000 tour because of visa problems in China,” said David Goldstein of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. “And this is repeating itself in market by market.”
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the lengthy strike is an embarrassment for the Conservative Party.
“People are scratching their heads and wondering, ‘What’s with Canada? They can’t even get along with the own diplomats.’”
With a report from CTV’s Richard Madan