By Kevin McPhail

You will have noticed though our move from our public to a secure website and in our closed Facebook group that we have posted very little about the state of bargaining for our Collective Agreement this time compared to previous rounds of bargaining. There is a fine balance to be struck between keeping our coworkers informed and providing too much information too early, which can not only lead to internal divisions but also undermine the bargaining process itself, so I have appreciated your patience.

Your bargaining committee has met with the employers on a very regular basis since January and, after taking March off to complete review panel and take some family time, met again this last week in Victoria.

For those of you unaware of this fact, the provincial government dictates the bargaining framework for most government and crown corporation employees. This time the mandate given to our employer is to have a five year contract with 5.5% wage increase over that time which may be improved via an Economic Dividend bonus in four of the five years.

On April 2nd two employees of the Public Sector Employer's Council (PSEC) attended to provide us with an overview of that Economic Dividend portion. In a nutshell if the real GDP of the BC economy grows faster than forecasted by a body of independent economists, then we'll receive a wage increase of half of the difference. For example if the economy is forecast to increase by 2.5% and it turns out to be 3.5% that's a one percent difference and our wages will be adjusted by 0.5% for that year.

Stats were provided to show however that over the last 10 years there hasn't been very much difference between the rate forecast and the reality of our economy so I would not be expecting any dividend whatsoever.

Furthermore with regards to the 5.5% over five years which has been trotted out to the press, it's actually 'back-loaded' meaning we would receive 0% this year and the other wage increases are timed so that the last 1% increase is only actually added on two months before the conclusion of the entire five years.

You don't need to me a mathematician to realize that this results in LESS than 5.5% over five years. What we're being offered is less than 1% per year and doesn't even begin to look at the discrepancies we have been real market wages and some of our jobs.

A review of the consumer price index (CPI) for BC over the last few years shows it ranging between 0% and 2.4% with 2013 actually having a negative inflation rate, however even that standard is based on a fixed 'bundle of goods' which doesn't include fuel. I don't know about you but I've personally found my household expenses rising in 2013, not decreasing. Couple that with hydro increases this year and the wage offer of less than a percent per year is not acceptable.

The greatest challenge this bargaining round though is the fact that the government approached certain groups such as the BCGEU and community health care workers and entered into early agreements with them. Certain occupations which were far below market wages and could not attract employees were targeted with wage increases as long as the others accepted the general wage increase mandate mentioned earlier.

We understand that there were also certain targeted job reclassifications within the BCGEU but are being told by PSEC and our employer that those were paid for by concessions within their agreement so we are looking for confirmation directly from their union for that.

Normally we would be standing unified against the government mandate and seeking ways to overcome that hurdle rather than looking like we're swimming against a rising tide. If we feel that the mandate of less than 1% a year is unacceptable, then do you our union members also feel strongly enough to support us to bargain for more?

Another approach is to find other gains in benefits for example or in 'language' issues. Improvements to how our company works on a day to day basis is generally outside of the purview of PSEC and yet the employer has said PSEC expects to see gains for employers there as well despite offering table scraps for wages.

We have been steadfastly resisted concessions including the employer wanting to take away the right of appraisal assistants to refuse to be away from home overnight. They want to extend our business hours to 9pm, strip northern workers of their (small) locational add-to pay, and won't discuss at the bargaining table how the Target Operating Model might radically alter how we do our work over the life of the contract.

Your negotiators have narrowed their focus as well to the areas that would benefit the majority. We continue to strive for improved telework language (including safeguards to keep such arrangements at the employees request and all jobs in BC), a fair and transparent process for acting positions, a right to representation during Code of Conduct interviews, improved hours of work including a four day week option, improved contracting out provisions, market wages, improved benefits and shorter probationary periods.

Over the last three months we do have tentative agreement to correct some 'housekeeping' items within the contract as well us such things as updating and streamlining the grievance procedure, allowing a limited amount of cashing out of unused vacation (while resisting the employers attempt to decrease vacation carryover and allowing more frequent general leave. All in all very few gains so far...

I encourage you to complete the bargaining survey we have sent out. There was a problem with the original link but your area reps now have the correct one. Your responses will inform us of your wishes as we move forward. I am hoping that regional directors will hold early Spring regional meetings and I or other bargaining team members will make efforts to attend and bring you up to date more with the state of bargaining, and our way forward to a new Collective Agreement.

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