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.

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

The Capital Regional District has approved its plan that aims to reduce its total waste by about a third by 2030. (Black Press Media file photo)
CRD board approves plan aimed at cutting waste by a third by 2030

Solid Waste Management Plan to start tackling Greater Victoria’s largest waste sources

The Sooke Fine Arts Show will be online again this year, showcasing unique artworks from Vancouver Island and B.C.’s coastal island artists from July 23 to Aug. 2. (File - Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke Fine Arts Show to have a virutal walk-through gallery for 35th year

Longest-running show on Vancouver Island aims for 300 pieces in an online gallery

The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)
District’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

Backlash grows over ‘pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership’

Comedy balloon artist Mike Dada of Sidney hands two-year-old Mila Yiau a balloon flower as she holds the hand of her mother Hannah Liao at Sunday’s street market in Sidney. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney Street Market parks in temporary location for 2021

Market open Sundays at Mary Winspear parking through Oct. 10

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Italian-Canadian prisoners at the Kananaskis prisoner of war camp in Alberta. (University of Calgary/Contributed)
Italian moved to Okanagan with hope; he ended up being sent to a WWII internment camp

Raymond Lenzi shares his grandfather’s story ahead of Canada’s planned formal apology to Italian-Canadians

Then-minister Rich Coleman, escorted by Victoria Police, makes his way to the east wing amid a protest blocking the legislature entrances before the throne speech in Victoria, B.C., Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. money laundering inquiry testimony ends today with reappearance of Rich Coleman

Responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, Coleman been recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month

Colin Dowler rests in hospital recuperating from wounds suffered from a grizzly bear attack north of Campbell River. He was able to end the struggle by stabbing the bear in the neck with a knife like the one he is holding. Photo submitted
‘Bad-ass dude that took on a grizzly bear’ doesn’t let 2019 B.C. attack bring him down

Campbell River’s Colin Dowler gets on with his life as his rehabilitation continues

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport in Richmond, B.C. on Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Meeting police chance to get sense of ‘frustrating’ gang violence situation: minister

Mike Farnworth met with police representatives Thursday following a recent spate of shootings

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue manager Ken Neden, as he goes over the events of the Qualicum Falls river rescue on Dec. 12, 2020, for a United Kingdom television program “Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera’. (Mandy Moraes photo)
TV show spreading news of daring B.C. river rescue across the world

Arrowsmith SAR trio share their accounts for ‘Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera’

Shane Ertmoed’s application for Escorted Temporary Absences was granted following a hearing May 4, 2021. (File photo)
B.C. child-killer an ‘average’ risk to sexually reoffend: Parole Board

Written reasons behind approval of Shane Ertmoed’s request for escorted absences shared

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

Most Read