B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid has said her government will not be increasing the wages of 27,000 government workers in the near future, despite their plan to strike this week to raise awareness about their ongoing contract negotiations.
Members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, the Professional Employees Association and the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union will go off the job on Wednesday.
The action will be the latest in a series of one-day strikes staged by the BCGEU around the province this summer. The union is seeking a wage increase of 3.5 per cent in the first year of a new contract and a cost of living increase in the second.
But MacDiarmid told the CBC her government will continue to focus on a zero wage increase mandate in the coming year to help balance the province's budget.
The minister says she can imagine how a teacher in the province must feel.
'The people who work for us, all the public servants...they're valued and their work is important.' —B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid
"And say, 'you know I'm not too fussed about the situation in British Columbia, I want a raise'. And what we're saying is this is not the time for that," she said.
'Taken for granted'
The strike is expected to affect 1,785 worksites, including liquor stores, courts, corrections, social workers, child protection and ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) offices in 153 communities across B.C., but the unions say essential services will be maintained.
Speaking last week, BCGEU president Darryl Walker said the aim of the job action was to make the public aware of the work the unions do.
"We're trying to show the general public the services we provide. We haven't been on strike for over 20 years. Most people enjoy our services but probably somewhat take them for granted," said Walker.
Speaking on the CBC's The Early Edition, MacDiarmid did admit compensation will be raised eventually.
"Of course in the future, increases in compensation will happen. The people who work for us, all the public servants, 'cause they work for us, they're valued and their work is important. Of course they'll get increases in their compensation in the future."
And MacDiarmid says the government is ready if workers decide on more strike action after Wednesday.
"I mean there are various tools that can be used. There are arbitrators, mediators, legislation. This is very early and the BCGEU knows the other things that can happen and I'm aware of them as well," she said.
"But at this point they're making a statement with this one-day strike what we're hopeful will happen is they'll — we will get back to the table."