Metro/Graham Lanktree Federal Foreign Service workers picket outside Citizenship and Immigration offices at 365 Laurier Ave, June 14, 2013.

The Prime Minister’s push for a new Canada-EU free-trade agreement may be hampered by picketing foreign service workers as they strike to get pay equity with their peers, said their union boss Friday.

“Service withdrawals have been targeted at high priority and national files of this government, including travel by cabinet members and the Prime Minister,” said Tim Edwards, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers.

Some 300 workers in Canada and around the world, out of the total 1,350 foreign-service officers represented by the PAFSO, are on strike and gearing up for a more heated battle after struggling with pay inequity for the past eight years, he said.

These workers are handling the final stages of negotiations on a free-trade agreement between the EU and Canada as well as working on the developing civil war in Syria, the Iranian election, and  further withdrawal of service could have a big impact, Edwards said.

“We’ve been trying to address these issues since 2005, in the case of some of the wage gaps,” Edwards pointed out.

The pay gap between foreign service officers and other government bureaucrats at the same level is as much as $14,000 in many cases.

Edwards took umbrage at the government’s refusal to provide a revised pay offer when they stepped up to the bargaining table with the union last week.

“Re-presenting the same offer that has been on the table for 20 months shows a fundamental lack of respect and flexibility,” he said, since the workers have already given in to having their severance pay for those who retire or resign and to a 1.5 per cent annual wage increase that is “well below national inflation.”

The fact that the government has cut 15,000 public service jobs doesn’t mean the workers are prepared to roll over.

“They see the way they are being treated, and so a lot of them are choosing to leave,” he said. “They’re simply looking to catch up to what other highly trained professionals such as economists and lawyers in gov’t are making.”

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