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Job action possible as talks break down with B.C. General Employees' Union

Despite initial discussions being positive, negotiations between the B.C. General Employees’ Union and the Public Services Agency hit an impasse on Monday.

“There was no counterproposal from the employer, so at that point they gave us nothing to work with,” explained Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president. “So we’ve broken off talks.”

Smith said the union, which represents a wide range of public service workers, including forest firefighters and corrections officers, wants a minimum five per cent raise for the next two years, with a cost-of-living clause and wage protection from inflation.

It’s more than the two per cent yearly raise in the previous agreement, which expired in the spring, but the BCGEU chalks it up to inflation, which has soared to record highs.

“It is eating into the real purchasing power of workers' wages,” said Jim Stanford, an economist with Centre for Future Work.

“Wages in Canada have only been growing at between three and four per cent over the last year, but prices are up twice as fast – almost eight per cent.”

The BCGEU won’t confirm if and when members might go on strike, only saying the union wants to minimize the impact on the public.

“Job action can look very different,” said Smith. “It can be an overtime ban, or it can be something called work to rule, where you do exactly what’s in your job description. You arrive on time, take breaks on time, and leave on time.”

The provincial government is confident job action can be avoided, telling CTV News in an emailed statement it “respects the hardworking members of B.C.’s public sector and we believe that agreements will be reached through the collective bargaining process.”

More than 180 collective agreements covering nearly 400,000 workers must be renewed in B.C. With most industries short-staffed, experts say workers have leverage.

"Employers are going to have to wrap their minds around the fact that wages have to grow faster if they want to settle these contract negotiations without a work stoppage,” said Stanford.

The BCGEU was armed with a 94.6 per cent strike mandate when the two sides met last week.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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