Prince George community social service workers walked off the job Thursday to protest the provincial government putting "the squeeze" on their sector.
AiMHi, the province's largest community social services organization north of Hope, was the site of the latest round of rotating job action taking place around the province.
Members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) set up a picket line outside of the agency's main Kerry Street office. They also spent an hour campaigning in front of Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond's office.
The BCGEU represents 527 community social service workers in the area, who work at seven different agencies.
These are workers at not-for-profit societies who support people with developmental disabilities, at-risk youth and women, First Nations and other members of the community.
"The job action is about sending a message to the government that they have to stop putting the squeeze on community social services," said Oliver Rohlfs, spokesperson for BCGEU. "Yes it is about wages, but it is also about the sector as a whole."
According to the BCGEU, the province has removed more than $300 million from the community social services sector since 2004 and decreased wages in the past decade.
"So, residential care workers who work with adults with developmental disabilities, their starting salary is now $15.50 an hour. Back in 2002 it was $16.83," said Rohlfs.
The union members targeted Bond's office as opposed to Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell - who is also the minister responsible for labour - because of her gender, Rohlfs explained.
"As the vast majority of community social service workers - over 75 per cent - are women, and among the range of services they offer there are transition houses for women fleeing violence and there are other supportive services for women in a difficult situations," he said.
Community social service workers - not government employees, but those who work for government funded agencies - have not had a pay increase in more than three years, Rohlfs said.
"What's being asked for is a fair and reasonable wage," he said, noting an acceptable offer would have to be an increase that's higher than the rate of inflation. Their agreement ended March 31 and talks between the employer and the union broke off in mid-September, without any monetary offers on the table.
BCGEU took a rotating approach to the job action to ensure their clients weren't at risk, Rohlfs added.
Job action began with a strike in Vancouver on Tuesday and in Kamloops on Wednesday. If talks haven't resumed, the union will announce further strike locations next week.
"These are folks that deal with really vulnerable people so our first priority has to be to ensure proper coverage and ensure the health and safety of the vulnerable people isn't compromised. So we didn't want to do an all-out action," he said.