A proposal to open government liquor stores on Sundays was one of the sticking points in negotiations between the province and the British Columbia Government Employees’ Union before talks broke down last month.
The proposal – put forward under a “co-operative gains” mandate that calls for wage increases to be offset by lower expenses or higher revenues – was withdrawn as part of negotiations around job protection for employees affected by government’s February decision to privatize liquor distribution warehouses.
The union had pitched the idea of Sunday openings as convenient for consumers and a money-maker for the province, but the notion didn’t fly.
“They insisted we take that proposal off the table or they would not provide any labour adjustment provisions for the 600 people affected by that [warehouse]sale,” BCGEU director David Vipond said on Wednesday.
The union maintains Sunday openings could generate profits of up to $130-million a year, on top of the nearly $1-billion the Liquor Distribution Branch is expected to generate in profits this year.
The province in February said it would seek private operators to take over liquor distribution warehouses in Vancouver and Kamloops, citing a long-term capital gain and an opportunity for the private sector to find more efficient ways to distribute liquor in B.C.
The two government-owned warehouses account for about 55 per cent of the alcohol distributed in B.C.
On March 21, the BCGEU announced it had struck a deal with the province to provide job security to about 600 employees who work in the two warehouses and in wholesale customer service centres.
Ten days later, the union announced that broader talks relating to a contract that expired March 31 were stalled and that it would seek a strike mandate from its members. Results of that process are expected in May.
Currently, about 20 of more than 170 government liquor stores are open on Sundays. The province also has nearly 700 private liquor stores, most of which are open on Sundays. According to figures from the Liquor Distribution Branch, government liquor stores account for the biggest chunk – nearly 41 per cent of sales in the province, with private stores accounting for 33 per cent and the rest coming from pubs, restaurants and authorized rural outlets.
The mix of public and private liquor stores has evolved since 2002, when the government introduced regulations to allow private liquor stores to operate in the province.
A 2011 study from the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria linked the increasing number of alcohol outlets to increased consumption and health consequences.
“Consistent with the wider international literature, the increase in the number of liquor stores in B.C. per head of population following the 2002 partial privatization has led to both increases in rates of alcohol consumption and of alcohol-related deaths,” the study concluded.
The province did not mention health concerns at the negotiating table, Mr. Vipond said.
Research has shown a “pretty linear” relationship between the accessibility of alcohol, consumption and related harms, Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall said on Wednesday.
“From a public health perspective, you wouldn’t recommend opening more liquor stores on Sunday,” Dr. Kendall said.
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon was not immediately available for an interview, but has previously said that he hopes the parties will come back to the table to negotiate a new contract.