As B.C.'s teachers prepare to vote on a full scale strike, the government has reached a tentative deal with 34,000 education support staff in the province.

The deal includes a wage increase of about five-and-a-half per cent over five years, increased hours for education assistants and improvements to extended health benefit plans through standardization.

CUPE spokesman Rob Hewitt says the deal also includes guaranteed full pay if staff choose to not cross a teacher picket line, but said he doesn't want to compare his negotiations with those of B.C. teachers.

"All I can say is our committee worked very hard, and the other side worked extremely hard at meeting us in the middle," said Hewitt.

"I'm not sure if that's happening at the teacher table or not, but certainly that's what happened at our table. We were able to reach an agreement that hit the issues that our members wanted us to hit."
   
Hewitt says one of the big victories was securing funding from the province to cover the wage increases. In the last agreement, school districts were left to pay for wage and benefit increases causing widespread protest from school board trustees.

Union members and the B.C. Public School Employers Association still have to ratify the five-year deal, but the government says it provides wage increases "in keeping with its economic stability mandate."

That means bus drivers, education assistants and custodial staff could see more money if the province's economy exceeds annual forecasts.

B.C.'s Minister of Education Peter Fassbender said "both sides were realistic, flexible and willing to find solutions at the table."

Economic Stability Mandate

According to a government news release the 2014 Economic Stability Mandate applies to all public-sector employers whose collective agreements expired on or after Dec. 31, 2013.

  • "If the province's real GDP growth exceeds forecasts over the terms of these agreements, the agreements provide for the sharing of some benefits of that growth with the public sector employees who work on behalf of British Columbians and help make that growth possible."
  • "Under this proposal, employees would receive a conditional, incremental wage increase equal to half of any percentage point gain in real GDP growth above the Economic Forecast Council's forecast published in the budget.
  • "For example if real GDP growth is one percentage point above forecast real GDP growth, then a 0.5 per cent wage increase would result, beyond whatever wage increase had been negotiated in the contract.
  • "There are ratified agreements in place between the BCGEU and the Public Service, with Community Health, Community Social Services and  the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association."
With files from Steve Lus