The Insurance Corporation of B.C. has applied to have its services declared essential in a bid to block possible strike action by unionized staff, CBC News has learned.

ICBC has made the essential service request in an application to the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

The Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, which represents about 4,600 ICBC employees, has been conducting preliminary votes across the province to test the waters for a strike mandate.

Many union members are angry that ICBC has reportedly offered no wage increase in its next five-year contract and a union official said he’s stunned that the corporation is making the application to the LRB.

"It’s a pretty heavy hammer to use," said COPE spokesman Jeff Gillies.

The minister responsible for ICBC, B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, said Monday he believes the essential service application is, "a very responsible thing for the corporation to do," when faced with a possible strike.

"The company, understandably, is going to make sure that they at least get a ruling that will allow for minimal or essential levels of service to be provided to the public," Falcon said.

Depending on the location, those services include providing vehicle insurance, processing accident claims and issuing drivers licences and licence plates.

Gillies said the union believes that ICBC wants about 500 workers declared essential in claims customer services, driver services, and at the contact centre where drivers call in their claims, and in other departments.

Gillies said the union is willing to co-operate with ICBC to a degree that would not require the company to try to be designated an essential service.

"We understand that there might be some services at ICBC that are actually essential, but we’ll work through that at the [LRB]," said Gillies.

Gillies said a similar attempt by Saskatchewan General Insurance to be declared essential was challenged by the union, but the company’s initiative was struck down by that province’s courts.

 

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin