Representation on the Provincial Stage
Originally published in the FSA Voice (Oct 2017 edition).
A key lesson from the last few rounds of FSA bargaining has been the need for our voice to be heard at the provincial level. We saw this in 2012 when we fought the pay increases mandated by the government that were lower for our sector than for the rest of the public service. We saw this in 2015 when BCIT was willing to work with us on research issues and the provincial government denied them the authority to do so.
The provincial public service bargaining regime is complex. The primary goal of this complexity has been to restrain public sector salaries. A major consequence of this complexity has been that public institutions struggle to keep pace with a changing economy. Here’s how it works.
Rather than being lead by the head of the public service or by the Premier, the person in charge of public sector bargaining in BC is the Minister of Finance. As a result, bargaining is seen by the government primarily as a cost rather than as an opportunity to improve public services or meet other public policy objectives. Within the Finance Minister’s office, a Deputy Minister serves as CEO of the Public Sector Employers’ Council, or PSEC. PSEC oversees bargaining across the public sector and is responsible for administering the bargaining mandates issued by the Finance Minister. These mandates govern rounds of collective bargaining and agreements made with unions between rounds of bargaining.
PSEC is made up of representatives of the province’s six sectoral employer councils and the Public Service Agency, which acts as the employer for direct government employees. Our sector is the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association (PSEA), which is not to be confused with the separate University Public Sector Employers’ Association (UPSEA). In its wisdom, the government separated out the major research universities from other post-secondary employers. When things that have so much in common get divided, the results can be hard to explain. Royal Roads University is in UPSEA while BCIT is not. Vancouver Island University, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and the University of the Fraser Valley are in PSEA and Thompson Rivers University is in UPSEA. The other sectoral employer councils are the Public Schools Employers’ Association (BCPSEA, to distinguish it from our sector), Health Employers’ Association, the Community Social Service Employers’ Association, and the Crown Corporation Employers’ Association.
These different associations allow the government to tailor mandates to different sectors of the public service. For instance, after seeking savings in the public school system in the early 2000s and from the health sector in the late 2000s, the government turned its attention to our sector in 2012. While the mandate for the rest of the public sector was for 4% wage increases over two years, our sector was given a mandate of 2% over two years. Job action by the FSA and other unions won us pay raises on par with the rest of the public sector, so the government mandated a $75M cut in funding to the sector to be achieved through administrative services delivery transformation. In the 2015 round of bargaining, UPSEA members were allowed to create and modify classifications while the PSEA mandate prevented institutions from doing so.
These bargaining experiences have created a compelling case for the FSA to move into the provincial scene in a significant way. One motivation for membership in CAUT was to build linkages with UPSEA faculty associations and to challenge the perceived differences between BCIT and institutions like TRU. Our trial membership in the BC Federation of Labour has already brought us into discussions about how PSEC and PSEA will behave under a new government. We have also begun discussions with other unions about how collaboration and co-operation in bargaining might benefit us all.
The current collective agreement doesn’t expire until mid-2019. Our chance to influence how that agreement is negotiated is right now. The provincial government will be listening to stakeholders as it prepares for bargaining. Heading to the table before us in 2018 will be the nurses bargaining association and negotiations with doctors over their rates. How the new government approaches the next round of bargaining may well be determined by the time the Minister of Finance delivers the provincial budget in February 2018, only four months from now.
The extensive work done to represent FSA members with the previous government has prepared us well to influence this government. Our issues are well defined and understood by senior public servants. Having included all parties in our government relations work, we had already met with the new Premier, new Finance Minister, other new cabinet ministers, the Leader of the Green Party, and our new MLA Janet Routledge.
The FSA is making a strong effort to represent our members on the provincial stage because we know it’s crucial to protecting our rights and advancing the interests of BCIT’s faculty and staff.
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