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Canada strikes deal with foreign service workers

Canada’s longest public service workers’ strike, which affected some 100,000 inbound international students, has come to an end after the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) reached a tentative agreement with the Canadian government, late last week.

PAFSO and Canadian government strike tentative deal

The strike, which began on 2 April, has cost the Canadian economy CAN$1 billion

The strike, which began on 2 April, has cost the Canadian economy CAN$1 billion so far while creating a backlog of visa applications for international students. After reaching an agreement, Tim Edwards, President of PAFSO tweeted “PafsoApase and TBS_Canada have reached settlement. All strike measures to cease immediately. Good news for free collective bargaining.”

The terms that finally ended the six-month labour dispute is expected to cost $2.5million

The terms that finally ended the six-month labour dispute is expected to cost $2.5million and will narrow the $14,000 wage gap between foreign service officers responsible for issuing student visas, and other government officials.

“PAFSO is extremely pleased with the outcome. This is precisely what we had been asking for from day one of the negotiations in January 2011,” PAFSO told The PIE News. “Including the concessions we were willing to make in order to receive wage parity. We gave up severance pay and agreed to the pattern settlement for annual wage increases.” 

Union members are yet to ratify the new deal, but Languages Canada have released a statement to students and member schools saying “activities will be returning to normal in all Canadian Embassies and Consulates over the next few days.  Visas will therefore, return to normal processing times. “

In June, visa issuance had dropped by nearly 25% as PAFSO members withdrew services from Canada’s 15 largest visa-processing centres, including key source markets Beijing, Mexico City, Delhi and Sao Paolo.

During the workers’ action visa wait times shot up from five to 10 days to around six weeks for visitors from vital markets such as China, which supplied over 25,000 students in 2012. Some even feared it would hurt Canada’s long term reputation “as an increasingly attractive study destination for international students.”

Earlier this month, Clayton Smith, vice provost of students and international at the University of Windsor told CBC News, Windsor “This will hurt us, and it will take us a year or two to undo it.”

Despite concerns from the sector, the government says the affects of the strike will be minimal. “Those who had their applications in on time, those who had all the necessary documentation or whose applications are complete, are overwhelmingly seeing their applications processed,” Chris Alexander, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said in a statement to The PIE News.

“Activities will be returning to normal in all Canadian Embassies and Consulates over the next few days”

According to CIC, year to date figures for May, June and July saw a 6% increase in the number of student applications received compared 2012 with 12% more student visas issued.

This isn’t the first time Canada has been plagued by visa delays. In response to reports of processing times extending to up to seven months,  Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) recently introduced several measures including online help centres, an electronic application service and published processing times to improve the issue.

Last year the government released a report showing there were “218,000 full-time international students in Canada in 2010, more than double the number of students in 1999.”

These students accounted for more than $445 million in government revenue, according to Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development office, spending a total of $8billion; an amount that outweighs the country’s revenue from export of helicopters, airplanes and spacecraft to other nations.

 

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