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

Monday sees rain with high of 10 C

Plus your weekly forecast

Number of ancient humans continues to grow after discovery

Scientists identify at least 12 species outside of Homo sapians following discovery in Philippines

Peninsula grandmothers salute Roaring ’20s fashion

May 3 event in Sidney benefits Grandmothers Helping African Grandmothers

Deep Cove man running 50 km every month through his 50th birthday year

Ultrarunner hopes Deep 50 Challenge will raise $5,000 for Help Fill A Dream

Victoria church bells toll in solidarity with Notre Dame Cathedral after devastating fire

Churches around the globe ring bells to honour iconic Paris cathedral

Bodies of 3 mountain climbers recovered after last week’s Banff avalanche

The men disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in the Icefields Parkway

Happy birthday: Queen Elizabeth II turns 93 on Easter Sunday

Sunday is the first of two birthday celebrations each year for the queen

RCMP confirm witnesses say body found at Kelowna’s Gyro Beach

Police tape is blocking part of the beach and several RCMP officers are on scene.

B.C. fire department rescues kittens

Enderby homeowner not aware kittens in wood pile near garbage pile fire that got out of hand

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

A series of bomb blasts killed at least 207 people and injured hundreds more

Most Read