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Mediator told to pack up as B.C. labour dispute hits stalemate

The British Columbia Legislature in Victoria.

Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A mediator brought in for contract talks between the provincial government and thousands of government employees has been asked to pack up as the two sides continue to butt heads over wages for thousands of workers in areas including courts and government liquor stores.

"We're asking the mediator to book out – and then we move to next steps," Darryl Walker, president of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union, said on Monday.

Those next steps, including potential job action, are being discussed now and could take effect by August, Mr. Walker said.

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BCGEU members in May voted 82 per cent in favour of job action to support the union's contract proposals.

Mediator Debbie Cameron was appointed earlier this month. But talks between the government and the BCGEU that began in January had reached a stalemate.

The BCGEU maintains its members, who are coming off a contract reached under a 2010 "net zero" mandate, merit a wage increase in the light of rising living costs and a two-year wage freeze.

The BCGEU represents about 65,000 workers, including about 29,000 who work directly for the government and whose contract is currently being negotiated.

The union maintains its wage proposal would not require hiking taxes or boosting deficits, but could be paid for through measures such as using deputy sheriffs instead of RCMP personnel for traffic safety and boosting opening hours of government liquor stores.

Those measures would result in savings and additional revenues of $300-million, the union maintains.

The province has said it needs to keep costs in check and is taking a "co-operative gains" approach to contract talks – which requires any wage benefits to be offset by savings in other areas.

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The BCGEU has proposed a two-year contract with a 3.5-per-cent wage increase in the first year with a cost-of-living-adjustment in the second year. The government has offered a 2-per-cent increase to kick in July 1, followed by a 1.5-per cent increase in the second year, the union says.

The British Columbia Teachers' Federation is also engaged in a long-running labour dispute.

A government-appointed mediator, Charles Jago, is scheduled to make his recommendations by June 30.

The British Columbia Teachers' Federation is meeting with Dr. Jago this week in the hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement, a BCTF spokeswoman said on Monday.

Education minister George Abbott has said several times over the past few months that a new contract will be in place before the school year begins in September.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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