VANCOUVER – More than 27,000 government workers are walking off the job this morning, forcing offices that oversee everything from marriage and driver’s licences to forestry permits and government liquor sales to shut their doors for the day.
Wages are at the centre of the 24-hour action by members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and its supporting unions, and the strike is affecting all but essential services at about 1,800 work sites in 153 communities around the province.
While the government has offered a two-per-cent increase starting in July 1, 2012 and a 1.5 per cent increase July 1, 2013, the union has asked for 3.5 per cent starting April 1 and a cost of living increase in the second year.
“We need a fair and reasonable wage increase,” said Darryl Walker, BCGEU president.
“We’ve done our part: two zeros in 2010 through 2012, gone without a pay raise for, as I say, virtually three and a half years now. It’s time for us to get what is a fair increase, which would be somewhere around the cost of living.
“The employer’s offer is below that and we’re not prepared to accept that.”
But Attorney General Shirley Bond, who is now responsible for public-sector bargaining, has countered, arguing the government has made fair and reasonable offers to BCGEU and Professional Employees Association employees — offers that would have seen modest wage increases from within the government’s existing budget.
“The wage increase would have amounted to approximately $1,700 over two years for an employee earning an average salary of $48,000,” she said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Walker said some picket lines were scheduled to go up at midnight, but the majority were scheduled to go up in the morning.
Joining the strike will be members of the Professional Employees Association and Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378 who share common work sites with the BCGEU.
According to a COPE media release, the strike means 780 members will be off their jobs.
Walker said the strike will not affect essential services such as court houses, prisons, forensic institutions, child protection and social workers and individuals who deal with fire suppression in the forests.
After the strike, the union will determine its next steps, he said.
Walker said he was confident members would achieve a fair and reasonable collective agreement.
Meantime, Bond said it’s unrealistic for the union to be asking for further wage increases, given the uncertain world economic situation, and the government will not add to the deficit or ask taxpayers for more money to pay unaffordable wage increases.
“The global economic situation isn’t getting any better, and continues to put pressure on the budget,” she said.
“As this pressure increases on the budget, it will make it harder for government to consider even modest compensation increases.
“I strongly encourage the unions to come back to the bargaining table so a deal can be reached.”
The union has been without a contract since March.