On Wednesday, British Columbia’s largest public sector union reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government that includes a double-digit wage hike at a time when the cost of living is high.
The tentative agreement, reached after approximately seven months of negotiations between the British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU) and the government’s Public Service Agency (PSA), proposes general wage increases of between 10, 74 and 12.99% over three years, from April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2025.
The increases in the second and third years will be linked to the rate of inflation, although the increases will not be less than 5.5% in the second year and 2% in the third. In addition, the agreement provides a one-time economic subsidy equivalent to $4 per hour for a period of 16 weeks for 20 job categories, ranging from store clerks to machine operators.
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It is the most generous settlement in decades and will be noted by other public sector unions across the country who are negotiating.
“Members of this bargaining unit have been clear from the day we began preparing for negotiations last fall that their top priorities are meaningful wage increases and wage protections, and our committee has conveyed that message to the PSA. “, said Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU. and chair of the bargaining committee, said in a statement.
The union represents approximately 30,000 people working in the BC public service, including social workers, administrative staff, firefighters and workers in liquor and cannabis stores.
The deal follows a two-week strike in August that left many shelves bare at liquor and cannabis stores across British Columbia.
Prime Minister John Horgan and Finance Minister Selina Robinson said it was a fair deal.
“What I can say is that this is a reasonable and fair deal for the employees now, as well as three years from now,” Ms Robinson told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “And the agreement must balance the needs of all public sector workers … with our fiscal responsibilities to the province and the people of British Columbia.”
Nearly 500,000 people work in the provincial public sector. About 393,000 of them are unionized employees paid under collective agreements or professionals paid under negotiated compensation agreements, according to a document released last year by the province’s Council of Public Sector Employers.
It says the provincial government and public sector employers spend nearly $38.6 billion on compensation, equivalent to more than half of the province’s budget, and that a 1% increase in compensation of all public sector employees in British Columbia would cost between $386 and $386. million.
BC Opposition Liberal Finance Critic Peter Milobar wondered what the final cost of the deal would be.
“That’s really the key. … What changes have been made to the benefits plan? And what is it going to cost taxpayers? he said in an interview.
Christopher McLeod, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, said wage increases could reach nearly 14% over three years if other contract provisions are included.
“It’s a very generous settlement, but it’s in an inflationary environment that we haven’t seen since the early 1980s,” he said, noting that it’s a good deal for the workers.
He said the deal will put mild inflationary pressure on the economy, but the BC government has the financial capacity to withstand that, as it recently declared a $1.3 billion surplus.
This year, 184 public sector contracts are up for renewal in British Columbia.
Professor McLeod said the BCGEU deal will “most certainly” set a standard for other public sector unions, but other factors could drive negotiations in the private sector.
The BCGEU said the deadlines for the ratification vote will be confirmed in the coming days.
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