B.C.'s unionized public-sector employees will receive a small bump in their salaries next spring under a bargaining policy that ties additional raises to the province's economic performance, The Globe and Mail has learned.
About 250,000 workers covered by tentative and ratified agreements will receive a 0.45-per-cent increase – which amounts to about $347 for teachers at the most common pay grade. That covers almost 80 per cent of the 313,000 unionized people working in Crown corporations and agencies, schools and hospitals. Unions representing B.C.'s nurses and at least one other group of workers are still negotiating new contracts with the government.
The slight raise is a result of the Liberal government's shift in recent years from its "net zero" bargaining mandate that prohibited spending any additional money to boost wages and benefits to negotiating with unions to give them modest wage increases over longer terms while promising more if the economy defies predictions. The most recent round of contracts included a clause that would trigger such increases if the real gross domestic product exceeded the prediction of an independent panel of about a dozen economists that advises the Finance Ministry.
The panel predicted the GDP would grow by 2.3 per cent last year. Buoyed by gains in both business and residential investment, GDP rose by 3.2 per cent in 2014, according to figures released by Statistics Canada last week. Under the provincial government's new agreements, the difference between the forecast and the real growth is halved to give the public workers the raise.
Provincial Finance Minister Mike de Jong would not comment on the raise, but is expected to hold a news conference on the matter Tuesday.
A recent Globe and Mail investigation into public bargaining in Ontario found that the government made secret payments of $3.74-million to teachers' unions to secure labour peace as negotiations dragged on for more than a year.
Helmut Pastrick, chief economist at Vancouver-based Central 1 Credit Union, said that B.C.'s economic growth was second highest among the provinces last year after Alberta, which saw its GDP jump 4.8 per cent before the oil-price plunge hit earlier this year. The national GDP grew 2.5 per cent in 2014.
"I guess B.C. is somewhat unique, in a general sense, given our industry makeup and our geographic position on the continent and within Canada," said Mr. Pastrick, who is part of the Economic Forecast Council that advises the B.C. government.
NDP finance critic Carole James said she was pleased the public servants were getting the raise through bargaining, but wouldn't necessarily prescribe this "creative solution" to other provinces.
"I wouldn't say this is a solution for future bargaining because every context is different," she said. "Every year you go to the bargaining table is different; sometimes you have resources, sometimes the economy is booming, sometimes you're in difficult economic times."
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said the "very modest amount" will be added to members' salaries next May 1 under their agreement to boost pay 5.5 per cent over a term that ends in 2019.
"It comes nowhere near what teachers deserve in terms of the work that they do to meet the needs of all their students," Mr. Iker said. "Nor does it cover the cost of inflation, but obviously it's a welcome increase in a year when teachers are getting a zero-per-cent pay increase."
Under their existing agreements, a nursing assistant making the maximum of $44,520 would see an increase of $200 as a result of last year's GDP growth. A educational assistant working 1,000 hours a year and making $24,080 would see a boost of $109.