Diplomats want to have same deal as military
Foreign service officers face same risks: union
By Kathryn May, The Ottawa CitizenMarch 16, 2010 Article Link
Canada's diplomats are appealing to the Harper government for the same employment insurance benefits it gave military families sent to Afghanistan and other overseas postings in the March 4 federal budget.
The union representing Canada's foreign service officers is asking Treasury Board President Stockwell Day to extend the EI parental leave and sick leave benefits to foreign service officers who face many of the same risks as military personnel, especially when posted in war zones such as Afghanistan.
Ron Cochrane, executive director of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, said he's baffled as to why diplomats and other bureaucrats posted abroad for Canada are excluded.
The union represents 1,400 foreign service officers and more than 50 are in Afghanistan.
There are also bureaucrats posted from other departments, such as the Defence Department, Canadian International Development Agency and Canadian Security Intelligence Service. At last count, more than 40 civilian employees who work for the Defence Department were in Kandahar, said John MacLennan, president of Union of Defence Employees.
"It's all focused on National Defence," said Cochrane.
"Has DFAIT (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) done something? ... They are totally ignoring the rest of the public service when it comes to these changes. I don't get it. Is it deliberate? An oversight or a cost issue?"
In the budget, the government announced military personnel who adopt or have a baby will receive the EI parental leave benefits that they couldn't collect while posted overseas. This means the government will give those whose parental leave was interrupted or deferred because of a military posting an extra year of eligibility.
The government also announced that EI sick benefits will be extended to help military families coping with someone killed in action. Eligible workers who lose a family member can qualify for EI's sickness benefits.
"Canadian soldiers put their lives on the line for our country and our Conservative government is proud to stand behind them and support them," said Ryan Sparrow, director of communications for Human Resources and Social Development Minister Diane Finley in an e-mail.
In a letter to Day, PAFSO noted that diplomat Glyn Berry was killed by a roadside bomb in 2006 while on duty in Afghanistan. In December, 25-year-old foreign service officer Bushra Amjad Saeed was severely wounded in a roadside blast in Afghanistan -- the same explosion that killed four Canadian soldiers and Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang.
"Without diminishing the role the military has played in these theatres, employees in the rotational foreign service assigned to areas of conflict who work with military personnel are exposed to similar risks," said the letter.
This isn't the first time, PAFSO has pressed for equal treatment between the military and public servants when facing the same risks.
In 2007, it lobbied for similar tax breaks the government gives soldiers and contractors working for the military.
"No amount of money in the world will compensate someone in the military risking their life in Afghanistan ... but there are other public servants working alongside them who are also putting their lives at risk, so I don't understand the differential. If there are tax incentives for military and contractors, why not for public servants?"
The issue has also resurrected a longstanding complaint among military and diplomatic personnel that their spouses, who can't find work during postings, can't collect EI when they return to Canada. In its letter to Day, PAFSO pressed to have this changed.
The foreign service has lobbied for years for spouses of those on postings to get access to EI. It was a recommendation of the McDougall Commission, whose report on conditions in the foreign service was tabled in 1981, and has been recommended by similar reports ever since.
Cochrane argues it's difficult enough to relocate two-career families and this is another disincentive. He said it is almost impossible for professional spouses to find jobs in their chosen careers and, in some postings, they can't find jobs at all because of language, culture or other host country restrictions.
The government has a policy that anyone who is relocated abroad should not benefit nor be disadvantaged by their postings. PAFSO has long argued the government treats its members unfairly when compared to those who move with their spouses to jobs within Canada.
Under the act, they lose their entitlements to EI when abroad because they aren't available for work in Canada. This means they have to re-qualify when they return to Canada so they can't collect EI while looking for work even though they typically qualified before leaving for the posting.
The letter to Day argues this is particularly unfair because the EI act does extend the qualifying period for others, such as those incarcerated in Canadian prisons, who can collect EI when released. In light of this, the letter argues the diplomats' requests for similar treatment to the military is "a very reasonable proposal."End of Article