More strike votes in B.C. public sector

Unions demand wage increase, government insists on ‘co-operative gains’
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 04/05/2012

The union representing 1,200 licensed professionals in British Columbia’s ministries of Forests and Natural Resources, Transportation, and Environment has reached an impasse in its negotiations for a new contract with the government.

The Professional Employees Association (PEA) — the union representing the public service workers — say it’s most concerned with the government's intention to strip employment security and cancel market-based wage adjustments for engineers and pharmacists.

“Our membership has indicated that the continuing reduction in the number of licensed professionals in B.C.'s public service has increased the risk to public safety and compromised the management of some of B.C.'s most important resources," said PEA executive director Scott McCannell. "Without an investment in public service licensed professionals it is questionable whether B.C. will be able to effectively manage the natural resources of our province, which are critical for revenues used to provide public services."

The union’s bargaining committee says it will be meeting with its membership to discuss the current state of bargaining before deciding whether a strike vote will be held.

Like most B.C. public-sector workers, the PEA collective agreement expired on March 31, 2012, which could lead to a turbulent labour season this spring. The province’s 300,000 civil servants and employees of government-funded organizations have been operating under a three-year wage freeze. The government has said new contracts can contain wage increases, but only through “co-operative gains.” That is, if savings or increased revenue can be found somewhere else within the sector, wages can go up.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), which represents 25,000 B.C. civil servants, like liquor store clerks, prison guards and social workers, plan on taking a strike vote the week of April 2. Talks between the union and the province broke down on March 30 after the government tabled an initial wage hike of three per cent over the next two years.

“We presented the government with concrete proposals that would produce hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenues and savings,” BCGEU president Darryl Walker said in a letter to union members. “Government negotiators showed no interest in these proposals. Instead, they presented a wage offer that is well below inflation and well below wage increases that many private workers will get.”

B.C.’s 41,000 teachers are already feeling the government’s resolve to restrain wage increases Last week, the government passed back-to-work legislation after teachers held a three-day strike, closing classrooms across the province. The teachers’ union will undergo a six-month cooling off period and negotiations are now left up to a mediator who must comply with the co-operative gains mandate.

This is not a net-zero mandate, and the government has worked hard to find savings within the 2012 co-operative gains mandate that could be used for modest wage increases for our public service employees,” Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said in a statement. “B.C. has a legislated commitment to balance the budget in 2013-14. It is our first priority and we will meet that commitment.”

B.C.’s net-zero mandate likely saved the province $3-billion over the past two years, Falcon said when the province’s budget was tabled in March.

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