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BC government workers on strike against wage cuts

BCGEU workers on strike against wage cuts
Bradley Hughes

August 17, 2022

Inflation is hurting us all. Nearly everything other than gasoline went up in price again this month. Members of the British Columbia General Employees' Union (BCGEU) are fighting back. The 33,000 members of the union who are in the public sector bargaining unit are among the 384,000 unionized public sector workers whose contracts expired this year. All of them are covered by the BCNDP government’s wage controls. In this round of bargaining the government’s public sector wage controls were set at less than 2% per year for three years.

Wage controls for the public sector were introduced in the 1990’s by the then NDP government. The wage controls  have no basis in legislation and are only maintained due to our unions’ inability to defeat them. The good news is that the BCGEU is on track to defeat them this time.

Strike down the wage controls

In June BCGEU members voted 95% in favour of strike action. The large strike vote was enough to get the NDP government to go beyond its own wage controls; the government’s latest offer was 3%, 3.5% and 2.5% over three years. Given how high inflation is, and is likely to continue, you should read that as an offer to decrease wages by 5% or more each year for three years. These workers are on strike for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) so that their wages won’t be cut as inflation continues.

Picket lines are up at the government liquor distribution warehouses. These workers and the rest of the the workers in the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) made over $1 billion from liquor and cannabis sales for the province last year. asked one of the striking workers, Traci Mountain, why other workers should support this strike. “Number one, our money goes back to the province. BCLDP funds healthcare, schools, roads. Without our profits the province would have to fall back on fees. And better wages for pubic sector workers go back into the economy and into local business, which benefits everybody.” For the six years she has worked for the BCLDB wage increase have been 2% per year or less. “We keep falling behind.”

Brian Tong told us about the public support that they have seen even though the picket line was less than 24 hours old. He also said, “I don’t think it’s fair that MLA’s get COLA but we don’t.” A COLA provision is “not just for me, we need it for everyone . . . We just have to let the government know that we can’t survive on what they are currently paying us. It feels like people are going more and more in debt.”

MLAs are protected from inflation

MLAs in BC are paid $115,000 a year. The cabinet ministers who decided on the wage controls and who insist on wage cuts for the public service are paid $172,000 per year. All MLAs wages are indexed to inflation so cabinet ministers got a $6,000 raise this year and they can expect raises of around $10,000 to $15,000 next April.

In the last budget the government included a General Programs Contingencies allocation for public sector wage increases and other things. That fund is $2.8 billion in 2022/23, $3.4 billion in 2023/24 and $4.0 million 2024/25. The BC government estimates that a 1% wage increase for all public sector union members would cost $311 million. The contingencies allocation could fund wage increases of over 9% for the entire public sector. And if not, there are plenty of Liberal era tax-cuts that they can rescind to make up the difference

Victory to the BCGEU!

It’s crucial that government workers win this strike. In addition to the 33,000 members of the BCGEU, another 350,000 public sector workers are facing the same wage cuts of 5% or more per year for three years. If the BCGEU wins, it will be that much easier for the rest of the public sector to defeat the government wage controls. And it sets a precedent for private sector workers to point to as well. However, ff the BCNDP succeeds in slashing these workers wages they will be that more confident when they take on the rest of the public sector.

Show your support by visiting the picket lines, right now they are up at these Liquor Distribution Warehouses

  • Delta Distribution Centre (DDC) – 7003 72nd Street, Delta, B.C.

  • Kamloops Distribution Centre (KDC) – 9881 Dallas Drive, Kamloops, B.C.

  • Richmond Distribution Centre (RDC) – 3389 No 6 Rd, Richmond, B.C.

  • Victoria Wholesale Customer Centre – 2291 Government Street, Victoria, B.C.

You can get the latest info on picket lines at the union website. You can also download a support sign for your window here. The union has set up web page to help you email your MLA here.



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