Labour spring of discontent

Much like the windstorms that have battered the Capital Region this week, a storm is brewing for the provincial government.

Much like the windstorms that have battered the Capital Region this week, a storm is brewing for the provincial government.

As the B.C. Liberals moved to quash the teachers’ strike by passing Bill 22, amid scattered calls by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to work bell-to-bell only, other unions are lining up to take their shot at the government in the days before their contracts expire.

The B.C. Nurses’ Union and a majority of workers represented by the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union – totalling more than 50,000 individuals – have deals that end March 31.

The nurses want 2,000 more nurses hired in the province to ease workload issues they say are threatening public safety. The lack of investment by government in their workplaces, they say, is leading to professional burnout. The BCGEU wants pay increases after almost three years without.

As with the teachers’ dispute – which became more about working conditions than pay increases when the BCTF recognized ‘net zero’ meant ‘net zero’ – the struggles to create “fair” agreements are ongoing as the province moves through a difficult economic time.

Of course, everyone’s definition of fair is a little different.

The current government, starting in its earliest days in power, slashed programs and funding in its efforts to balance the province’s books. It has restored a certain level of funding to areas cut, but slammed the door on labour spending when the global economic downturn hit.

Now, with the economy still limping along, the government must consider if it is more palatable to endure an increasingly disgruntled work force while keeping the province’s finances from spiralling out of control, or throw unions a financial bone – in the form of modest wage or benefit increases, smaller class sizes or the hiring of additional staff to ease workloads.

How long do we cling to the concept of short-term pain for long-term gain?

That is the biggest question the provincial government must answer as it wades deep into this spring of discontent.