VICTORIA – Provincial government employees staged their largest one-day strike so far Wednesday to press for a bigger wage increase, with two thirds of the workforce off the job at ministry offices, liquor stores and ICBC offices province-wide.
Both the government and the B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union remained unwilling to budge from their positions after negotiations broke down over wage increases this spring. The union executive is meeting next week to consider further strike action this fall.
Two earlier one-day strikes targeted liquor warehouses and then selected resource ministry offices in the B.C. Interior. Government negotiators offered raises of two and 1.5 per cent for the next two years, then withdrew the offer after the union staged the first strike.
BCGEU chief negotiator David Vipond said Wednesday the wage offer has been tabled and withdrawn three times since talks began early this year, a tactic he called “peek-a-boo bargaining.” And after three years without a wage increase, he said the union is sticking to its demand for 3.5 per cent in the first year and a cost-of-living raise of about 2.5 per cent in year two.
“They want us to reduce our real income over this contract, and we’ve already taken a five-per-cent hit,” Vipond said in an interview. “So to try and chisel us again with a skinny deal doesn’t make sense to us. We want to at least keep up with inflation and gain a little of what we have lost.”
Premier Christy Clark unveiled her new cabinet lineup in Victoria Wednesday as BCGEU pickets circled government offices downtown. Both Clark and Mike de Jong, the new finance minister, said they have no intention of increasing the burden on taxpayers to provide bigger raises to provincial workers.
“The government’s position on this hasn’t changed,” Clark said. “I am not going back to taxpayers for more money in order to give government workers a raise. We are in very tough economic times and we have to balance our budget.”
The government estimates that the wage offer adds up to $1,700 more over two years for a BCGEU employee making $48,000 a year.
— by Tom Fletcher, Black Press’ legislative and provincial reporter/columnist