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