Here’s B.C.’s big political idea of 2013

Profit sharing approach to labour relations comes to the public sector, and confrontation may be on the way out

The traditional style of public sector labour relations in B.C. may be on the way out.

VICTORIA – One of Canada’s great entrepreneurial success stories in recent years is WestJet, the Calgary-based airline that is expanding across the country and taking on European routes.

Clive Beddoe, the founding CEO of Westjet, was famous for helping the cabin crew tidy up the plane before getting off a flight. And the company is also known for its profit-sharing program, with all employees referred to as “owners” who have a stake in the success of the operation.

I thought of this management approach when news emerged that the B.C. government was offering public service unions a new kind of contract, with a five-year term and wage increases tied to improved economic growth.

The surprising thing is that unions are accepting the idea, even though provincial growth must exceed the government’s independent economic forecast council projections before it can take effect in a given year.

The generally non-militant Health Sciences Association was the first to recommend acceptance of a five-year agreement with only 5.5 per cent raises guaranteed. Then they were joined by negotiators for 51,000 health and social services employees, represented by the B.C. Government Employees’ Union and other unions that have long been adversaries of the B.C. Liberals.

John Fryer, negotiator for the BCGEU going back to the epic battles with Social Credit governments and now a professor at University of Victoria, wasn’t impressed when he heard the news.

“These deals reflect what happens when public sector unions back the losing party in a provincial election,” he said. “Union bargaining power takes a trip down the pooper.”

I think there’s more than that going on. Perhaps today’s union leadership is beginning to accept that its wage, benefit and pension arrangements look pretty good compared to the harsh reality of private businesses competing in a global economy.

I asked Premier Christy Clark if this new approach is inspired by private-sector profit sharing. She agreed that is the model.

“I think that’s a great principle for all of us to work from,” Clark said. “Until now, the growth of public sector wages has been completely insulated from changes in the private sector. And this is the first time we’ve ever been able to successfully link those two things. At this point it’s still a small increment wage growth, but it’s a big change, and I hope we can continue to build on it.”

From an employee perspective, it is indeed modest. If real gross domestic product increases one per cent beyond the independent forecast used in the provincial budget, employees get an additional half of one per cent raise for that year.

Contrast this labour relations development with what’s happening on the federal scene. A classic confrontation is brewing between the Harper government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

A key dispute is over sick days, which the government estimates are averaging 18 a year. PSAC currently has 15 “bankable” sick days a year, which the union president refers to as a “negotiated right.”

It takes me back to my first union job, where I was warned never to take just one sick day. We negotiated for two at a time, so always take two, the union rep told me. Implicit in this is the mindset that employees should give as little and take as much as possible.

Looking through my files each December for the B.C. story of the year, I consider what is likely to matter five or 10 years from now.

This partnership approach to building the provincial economy is my pick for 2013.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.

Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Telkwa council cautiously vigilant on crime stats

Crime severity was up, but reporting changes may be the cause, mayor says

July 2019 for Smithers “almost record breaking” says climatologist

David Phillips could only find one year with both more total precipitation and number of wet days

All Nations Driving Academy gets $360K boost from province

Terrace-based driving school bridges gap in services for remote northwest B.C. communities

VIDEO and PHOTOS: Thursday at the Spirit of the North Classical Music Festival

A brass fanfare, Classics on Main and a family folk dance were among the events on Day 2 of the fest

Skeena Watershed reopened for recreational pink and coho

Four sections and tributaries remain closed

VIDEO: Canadian zoos’ captive breeding programs help preserve endangered species

Programs considered last-ditch effort to prevent local extinctions of turtles, butterflies and more

Two hiking families team up to extinguish fire in B.C. backcountry

Children and their parents worked for three hours to ensure safety of the popular hiking region

Vancouver man arrested after pregnant woman’s SUV stolen, then crashed

Police are recommending charges against a 22-year-old Vancouver man

Elections Canada to assess ‘partisan’ climate change rhetoric case by case

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has said climate change is not an emergency nor caused by human

Unseasonable snow forces campers out of northeastern B.C. provincial park

Storm brought as much as 35 centimetres of snow to the Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake Park-Stone Mountain Park

Telus customers enraged as outrage hits fifth day

Telus.net has been down since Aug. 15

B.C. log export rules killing us, northwest harvester says

NorthPac Forestry says Skeena Sawmills has plenty of timber

Search crews find 4-year-old boy who went missing near Mackenzie

George went missing early Saturday afternoon

Most Read