A net zero per cent wage increase mandate is not such an unreasonable concept in this atmosphere of tough economic times.
Looking at the current dispute between the province and B.C. teachers, one of the main issues has been the $2-billion gap in compensation between what the government is prepared to pay, and what the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has asked for. The government calls the union’s demands “unrealistic” given the current economic environment.
After the global recession in 2008, the government brought in a net-zero mandate for all public-sector agreements that expired after Dec. 31, 2009.
When agreements expire, especially in the public service, employees have an expectation that they should see improvement in their new agreement: a wage increase, more paid time off, or that the employer should contribute more towards the employees’ cost of benefits such as extended health and dental.
With net zero still being enforced, teachers are in a position where they must decide what they really desire from their contract. If they want an increase in paid sick days, for example, they will need to give up a benefit of equal monetary value to make up the difference.
When times are good, the government can afford to increase wages and benefits, but when times are tough, net zero is the way to go.
Net zero, however, is far from a sustainable strategy and the government has to start looking ahead to future negotiations.
Ironically, the teachers could be among the first to benefit from a non net-zero scenario. The mandate is slated to end June 30, opening up the potential for the BCTF to avoid it if it delays bargaining long enough.
It could have an ‘us too’ effect on more than 100 other agreements signed by other unions since net zero was brought in.
One day a settlement will be reached that allows for wage increases, and the floodgates will open. Let’s hope the government has a plan to deal with upcoming agreements that lays the groundwork for future labour peace.