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Government refuses to offer BCGEU wage increases tied to inflation

Bargaining for public service employees hits stumbling block over wage protections similar to that of MLAs
BC WIldfire Service fireman
Contract talks between the provincial government and the BCGEU, which represents BC WIldfire Service and other public services, broke off Monday in Victoria.

A refusal to offer cost-of-living guarantees and wage protections from inflation has scuttled talks between the B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) BCGEU’s public service bargaining committee and the Public Service Agency.

After three days of negotiating last week, talks broke off Monday morning in Victoria.

The union is pushing for a five per cent annual increase over two years with cost-of-living guarantees that would top up the annual increase if the rate of inflation climbs higher than five per cent.

About 1,400 BCGEU members in Prince George are part of the public sector.

The government tabled a revised wage proposal on Tuesday which fell short of the union’s expectations and a counter-proposal made the following day by the BCGEU was ultimately refused by the government after four days of consideration over weekend.

“They said they could not accept our wage proposal and not only that, unfortunately, they didn’t give us a counterproposal and so at that point they gave us nothing to work with,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith, chair of the public service bargaining committee.

“It is about looking at how much everything costs in your day-to-day life. As everyone knows, the cost of groceries is going up, the cost of gas, the cost of hydro, all those things you spend your paycheque on. This is something the members of the Legislative Assembly are now afforded, so their salaries are tie to rates of inflation. They legislated that for themselves.

“The minimum wage is now tied to rates of inflation, as it absolutely should be. Rents can be increased tied to rates of inflation, and so that’s what we’re asking for our members. We are seeing collective agreements across Canada that are acknowledging cost of living adjustments or tying increases to rates of inflation. MLA’s get it, so why shouldn’t my members who do all the work for those MLAs ”

Public section employees last received a wage hike of two per cent in April 2021, which Smith said has failed to meet inflation rates since then, so any new contract that does not provide cost-of-living adjustments would amount to a wage cut. The inflation rate in B.C. in June hit eight per cent.

The previous collective agreement expired in March and on June 22 the 33,000 members voted 95 per cent in favour of strike action. The union has 90 days to exercise its strike vote and is required to issue a minimum 72 hours strike notice. The current round of negotiations began in February.

Roughly one-third of the BCGEU’s 85,000 members work in public service. That includes corrections officers/sheriffs, conservation officers, social workers, B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters, commercial vehicle inspectors, government-owned liquor/cannabis store workers, and Service BC administrative staff.

Smith said any targeted job action the union will take will be to maximize pressure on the government and minimize impact on the public and to the membership. That would likely mean overtime bans and work-to-rule conditions following precise wording of job descriptions.

“We are still in essential service negotiations and this is very different from what was deemed essential over the course of the pandemic,” said Smith.

“Our goal is to get an agreement, and we’re hopeful that our employer will see that we’re very serious in achieving a collective agreement that includes cost-of-living adjustments and they’ll come back to the table with a proposal that we can consider putting in front of the membership.”

BCGEU members are among 400,000 provincial government workers whose contracts that will, or have already, expired this year. The public sector also includes workers in healthcare facilities, community health, health science, social services and postsecondary education.

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