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BCGEU wage increase to be funded through budget savings

Raises for 26,000 British Columbia Government and Services Employees' Union under a tentative agreement will be paid for from savings found by keeping workers healthier and by working more efficiently.

Under the provincial government's "cooperative gains mandate" public sector unions and employers can negotiate wage increases, as long as they don't cost the province any more than it's already spending.

The BCGEU and the province negotiated a four percent increase over two years, said president Darryl Walker. The first one percent increase is retroactive from April 1, 2012. It will be followed by one percent increases in August, next April and Dec. 2013.

"We got every possible nickel that was there," said Walker. "We knew what the prize was, an agreement for our members that's fair and reasonable, and the prize for the other side was the people of British Columbia deserve the services that we provide and all along the way we wanted to make sure we could provide those services."

BCGEU Chief Negotiator David Vipond said the savings to pay for the raises will be found in two ways.

"One is on reducing sick leave by improving health status of employees, so we have online health assessment tools where people can evaluate their own health status and identify things they can do to improve their health," he said.

The project has been costed and there is a body of evidence that allows the government to predict what the returns will be, he said.

"The second thing is a modern version of the Japanese work philosophy of Kaizen, which is continuous improvement," he said. "The version we're using now is called Lean."

The idea is to work more efficiently by eliminating redundancy and overlap, he said. "People of British Columbia want their public service to be efficient and we've undertaken to do that and we hope it all works."

Asked what the consequences are if the savings aren't found, Vipond said, "If the gains aren't found it won't be for lack of effort. We're going to give it a go and we think it can produce a return."

The BCGEU and the government agree on the calculations, he said. "We're both confident it will occur. We've made assumptions on what those savings would be, as has the government, and they've incorporated that in their budgeting. Our task now is to deliver."

As part of the agreement, plans to privatize the liquor distribution system were cancelled.

The province also announced this week it has reached a tentative two-year collective agreement with the B.C. Nurses' Union.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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