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Canadian diplomats picket Washington embassy over labour negotiations

Canadian foreign service officers protest in front of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, Friday, May 3, 2013. Organized by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), they were calling for wage adjustments and resumption of contract negotiations with the Canadian government.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Canadian diplomats took to the sidewalks in Washington on Friday for the first in a series of planned pickets at embassies around the world aimed at drawing attention to stalled labour negotiations with the federal government.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers has been in a legal strike position since early April, after negotiations with the Treasury Board broke down. The union's 1,350 members have already implemented several work-to-rule measures, including cutting all overtime hours and refusing to respond to job-related e-mails and phone calls from home.

Tim Edwards, the union's president, said the biggest concern is that diplomats are paid substantially less than other public servants who have similar qualifications and experience. Employees have gradually ramped up their job actions over the past several weeks in an effort to draw the federal government back to the bargaining table.

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Last week, foreign service officers in Ottawa held two-hour pickets outside the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The union had initially planned to stage an additional picket outside Canada's embassy in Mexico City this week, but that plan was put on hold after an employee in Mexico was injured in a traffic accident.

Further pickets are being planned for some of Canada's biggest embassies abroad and will take place "in the next week or two" if negotations don't resume, Mr. Edwards said.

A spokesman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement said in an e-mail that the government bargains in good faith and will "continue to respect the confidentiality and legal obligations of collective bargaining." The Department of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the job actions are affecting government services abroad.

The Washington picket ran for about an hour outside the Canadian embassy and included close to 30 Canadian staff dressed in business attire and carrying signs with slogans demanding equal pay. The embassy is located directly across from Washington's National Gallery of Art and on the route between the White House and the U.S. Capitol building.

"Our members down here in Washington, like our members in headquarters last week, were out to raise the profile of our battle for equal pay for equal work and to apply public pressure on Treasury Board," Mr. Edwards said on Friday afternoon.

Foreign service officers currently make between $58,000 and $112,000, depending on their classification. He said the union has already accepted two key government demands in the latest round of bargaining: caps on annual pay increases and an end to severance pay for voluntary departures.

In addition to the pickets and work-to-rule campaign, the union has asked diplomats to experiment with wearing "creative" clothing to work in recent weeks, such as swapping slacks for sweat pants or wearing a sports jersey at the office.

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Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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