The provincial government is holding its breath these days, having settled contract negotiations with all but a few public sector unions and stayed the course on net zero.
But how long can it keep up this magician’s act? At some point, organized labour, led perhaps by a tag-team of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and B.C. nurses, will stage a mass revolt against the no-raise, cupboard-is-bare philosophy.
Some months ago, the province gave public sector employers such as post-secondary institutions the opportunity to receive modest wage increases, if the employer was able to find equivalent savings somewhere else in its operation. But increases in government grants to such bodies in recent years – they’re still playing catch-up from previously slashed funding – have done little more than match increases in operating expenses. Therefore, finding savings has become a little like finding a needle in a haystack.
One of the province’s largest unions, the B.C. Government and Services Employees Union, even sought ways to save the government money to cover off modest wage increases for its members. But that doesn’t mean they’re in a conciliatory mood.
The BCGEU’s one-day strike this week at the Liquor Distribution Branch in Victoria, held to protest any future privatization of that service, was a minor flexing of its muscle. More telling may have been the union’s stepping away from mediation at the bargaining table with the province last week, stating that no progress had been made in negotiations.
They could be the wolf at the door for the lame-duck Liberals. Despite not having gone on a full strike for 20 years, the BCGEU still wields clout, as no one wants government services to shut down.
While unions must be reasonable in their wage demands at this time, government needs to begin to offer some modest incentives for the people who work for them. Even if it’s a simple token of their esteem.