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British Columbians won’t see workers from three government sectors on picket lines in the next five years. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
British Columbians won’t see workers from three government sectors on picket lines in the next five years. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

B.C. reaches deal with three unions representing more than 51,000 employees Add to ...

Government workers in British Columbia are poised to endorse a growth-sharing offer as part of a long-term contract settlement with the provincial government.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Tuesday that three tentative deals with 51,000 workers are novel because they were reached before the current contract expires, last five years and include the possibility for extra pay if the economy improves.

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The tentative agreements affect 25,000 B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union members and members of two bargaining associations, which include about 11,000 people who work in social services, and another 15,000 community health employees.

The deals that expire in March 2019 include wage increases amounting to about 5.5 per cent over the five-year term.

De Jong said those agreements and last month’s tentative settlement with 16,000 members of the Health Sciences Association mean one-quarter of the government’s unionized workforce has now reached potential collective agreements, enhancing labour stability.

“To describe this as a positive development, I think, is something of an understatement,” de Jong told a news conference in Vancouver.

He said that under the deals outlined Tuesday, unionized workers will receive growth-sharing increases that equal half of any percentage point gain in gross domestic growth above the forecasts of the independent Economic Forecast Council.

A government background document stated that under the economic dividend agreement, a government worker earning $50,000 a year can expect an extra $250 if the provincial GDP rises by one percentage point above forecasts.

The government and the BCGEU agree that B.C.’s economy has surpassed growth forecasts in six of the last 12 years, amounting to what would have been an extra three per cent for the union members.

“There is a dimension to this that is new and novel, and one that I’d be kidding if I didn’t say I’m intensely interested and excited about,” de Jong said. “Under this mechanism, public sector workers will share in the benefits that flow from that additional growth. We think that’s appropriate.”

De Jong said the tentative deals should send a signal to other B.C. public sector union members, and especially the province’s teachers, that the government is looking for long-term labour peace and is willing to share profits.

About 302,000 unionized employees work in the public service, at Crown corporations and agencies, and in the public education, post-secondary, health and community social services sectors.

Darryl Walker, president of the BCGEU, said the union is recommending members ratify the deals at a yet-to-be-announced date, adding there’s a guaranteed wage increase and the possibility of further monetary benefits in the first five-year deal with the government.

“The idea of gain-sharing, or whatever you want to call it, I think, it’s relatively positive.”

University of Victoria labour policy expert Ken Thornicroft said public sector unions have little to lose by supporting the growth-sharing provisions in contracts even though they cannot impact the bottom line in the same way a similar deal between a private-sector business and union could.

“The unions are probably taking the view that what we’ve got in terms of guaranteed money is in itself a reason to sign the deal,” Thornicroft said. “The future potential of additional gains is really something you shouldn’t really hang your hat on and if it materializes, fine.”

Premier Christy Clark said in a statement the agreements will help her government keep its commitment to balance the budget.

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