B.C. insurance workers vote to strike, company applies for essential service designation

Minister calls essential service application responsible, union says premature
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 04/25/2012

The union representing 4,600 workers at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) says its members have voted 87 per cent in favour of striking.

Earlier this week, the ICBC applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to have some of its services declared essential in an effort to block possible strike action.

“ICBC has refused to talk about the issues which are a top priority for our members: workload, wages and contracting out,” Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378 (COPE 378) president Jeff Gillies said. “We hope the mandate for job action will prompt ICBC to work with us at the bargaining table to find a fair and reasonable agreement.”

The essential service application is, "a very responsible thing for the corporation to do," when faced with a possible strike, said B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.

“The company, understandably, is going to make sure that they at least get a ruling that will allow for minimal or essential levels of service to be provided to the public,” Falcon said.

The union says it didn’t see this coming.

“It’s a stretch to see how ICBC qualifies under essential services legislation and especially egregious given how long we’ve not had a contract,” Gillies said. “It’s a big hammer they’ve pulled out and it was premature. We had been hoping for a negotiated settlement.”

Under B.C.’s Labour Relations Code, services can be deemed essential if a strike by portions of the workforce pose an “immediate and serious danger to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of British Columbia.”

COPE 378 will now consider its options, it announced in a press release, adding that its dispute is with ICBC and the government — not drivers. They will make plans to avoid impacting the public if job action takes place, according to Gillies.

The union’s previous collective agreement expired in 2010 and the union and ICBC have been bargaining since January 2011.

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