B.C. gov­ern­ment reaches ac­cord with 26,500 pub­lic ser­vants

Times Colonist - - Front Page - LIND­SAY KINES

The B.C. gov­ern­ment has reached a ten­ta­tive three-year deal on a new con­tract with 26,500 mem­bers of the pub­lic ser­vice.

The agree­ment with the B.C. Gov­ern­ment and Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees’ Union calls for gen­eral wage hikes in each year of the deal. It also pro­vides for tar­geted in­creases for specific jobs to help re­cruit and re­tain workers, union pres­i­dent Stephanie Smith said in an in­ter­view.

“We were op­ti­mistic about go­ing into bar­gain­ing with a gov­ern­ment who seems to have a man­date that’s in align­ment with us, which is im­prov­ing ac­cess to pub­lic ser­vices that Bri­tish Columbians rely on,” she said. “We didn’t know whether to expect the in­vi­ta­tion or not, but when it came we were ready to go.”

The ten­ta­tive pact, which still has to be rat­i­fied by union mem­bers, runs from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2022. It cov­ers workers who pro­vide di­rect gov­ern­ment ser­vices such as ad­min­is­tra­tion, child pro­tec­tion and cor­rec­tions.

“We went in with a stack of pro­pos­als, try­ing to address a num­ber of out­stand­ing is­sues,” Smith said. “I’m pretty happy with what we were able to achieve. It wasn’t ev­ery­thing, cer­tainly. We knew weren’t go­ing to be able to solve ev­ery­thing in one round. But the [bar­gain­ing] com­mit­tee is rec­om­mend­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Smith de­clined to get into the specifics of the deal, but she said it in­cludes im­proved lan­guage about bul­ly­ing and harassment, oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety, and labour re­la­tions.

In terms of the tar­geted in­creases de­signed to deal with re­ten­tion and re­cruit­ment is­sues in cer­tain min­istries, Smith said: “I don’t think it would come as a sur­prise that we looked at deputy sher­iffs and cor­rec­tions as well as child-pro­tec­tion so­cial workers.”

It’s the first agree­ment reached un­der the NDP gov­ern­ment’s sus­tain­able ser­vices ne­go­ti­at­ing man­date.

“We re­spect the work of the pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees who help pro­vide peo­ple with the ser­vices they de­pend on,” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ca­role James said in a state­ment.

“This ten­ta­tive agree­ment is the first among 183 that will help us de­liver bet­ter ser­vices to Bri­tish Columbians, and we look for­ward to unions and em­ploy­ers con­tin­u­ing to reach freely ne­go­ti­ated agree­ments.”

B.C. Lib­eral Leader An­drew Wilkin­son vowed to scru­ti­nize the deal closely, given the close ties be­tween the union and the NDP in the past.

“It’s no sur­prise the NDP has been able to come to terms with one of their big­gest po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers, and the pub­lic de­serves to know where their money is go­ing and why,” he said in a state­ment.

Smith said the union will be re­leas­ing de­tails of the deal to its mem­bers in the com­ing days, post­ing an an­no­tated doc­u­ment on­line, mailing out a rat­i­fi­ca­tion bul­letin and hold­ing a se­ries of fo­rums and tele­phone town­halls. The vote will be held by mail-out bal­lot.

“We’ve sort of given our­selves four to six weeks, but we’re still re­ally fi­nal­iz­ing the time­lines,” she said.

“We want to make sure our mem­bers in Haida Gwaii have the same op­por­tu­nity to vote as our mem­bers in down­town Vic­to­ria.”

The cur­rent five-year con­tract, which ex­pires March 31, 2019, in­cluded a 5.5 per cent wage in­crease, im­proved ben­e­fits and bet­ter job se­cu­rity. It also con­tained a pro­vi­sion for ad­di­tional wage hikes if the pro­vin­cial econ­omy out­per­formed fore­casts.

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