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Restaurant and bar group hails lifting of job action by B.C. public-sector union

Industry grateful further distress was being averted for businesses already facing a labour shortage
Members of the British Columbia General Employees’ Union picket outside a B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch facility, in Delta, B.C., on August 15, 2022. British Columbia’s largest public-sector union says it is standing down after more than two weeks of limited job action, following the resumption of contract talks.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The head of a group representing British Columbia’s restaurant and bar industry says the ending of job action by the province’s largest public-sector union will avert further “mental stress” for workers and owners already reeling from uncertainty.

Ian Tostenson of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association said the union’s announcement in light of “significant progress” towards a deal with the government was good news for establishments running out of alcohol, especially small businesses that may have been forced to cut employees’ hours or shut down.

The BC General Employees’ Union said in a statement Tuesday that it was standing down from two weeks of job action that included pickets at liquor distribution centres that prompted the government to impose a purchase limits on alcoholic products at BC Liquor Stores.

The BCGEU, which represents about 33,000 employees, also imposed an overtime ban last week after saying the province’s Public Service Agency had not invited it back to the bargaining table since talks broke down last spring.

However, talks resumed last Thursday, and the union’s bargaining committee said Tuesday it was ending the overtime ban as a sign of good faith and preparations were underway to lift the picket lines at the liquor distribution centres.

Tostenson said restocking would be “a bit rough” but he was grateful further distress was being averted for businesses facing a labour shortage as they emerge from the pandemic.

“It’s probably going to take, realistically, three to four weeks to get the system up and running again, but I know the (Liquor Distribution Branch) has been working on restart plans so it’ll be a priority in terms of restocking the industry as fast as possible,” he said.

Premier John Horgan said he was relieved to hear of a tentative deal for the sake of the hospitality industry and “for all British Columbians.”

“This will be the beginning of a template for further negotiations with other critical employees that service British Columbians — nurses, teachers, support staff, all of the other public-sector workers that are so important to us,” he said, mentioning sectors whose unions are also looking for wage increases in future or ongoing talks with the government.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson said at a news conference to unveil the province’s public accounts that she was pleased at the apparent progress the BCGEU and the government were making at the bargaining table.

“I’m looking forward to getting a deal done as soon as possible,” she said.

Tostenson said the announcement of a possible resolution was timely because public pressure for a quick settlement of the dispute, which also affected cannabis stores, may have turned sentiment against both the union and the government

“I think the BCGEU made its point and sort of knew that if we continue on we’re going to cause damage,” he said. “Fortunately, it didn’t go on any longer than it did. I think then we would have been in real trouble.”

The union had been asking for a 15 per cent wage hike over three years.

Liquor retailers have said supply of some products was running dry, while some private cannabis retailers that also get stock through the Liquor Distribution Branch have been shutting down even though their staff are not part of the job action.

The privately owned stores have said the dispute meant they had no choice but to lay off workers or temporarily close.

The Retail Cannabis Council of BC thanked the BCGEU on Twitter.

“Our members are desperate for the relief and will hopefully see deliveries begin again swiftly,” it said.

Jaclynn Pehota, the group’s executive director, said last week that 70 per cent of legal pot stores in the province would have to shut if the job action continued past Tuesday and that 30 per cent of them were unlikely to reopen even after a resolution.

—Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

RELATED: BCGEU stands down strike action amid ongoing contract negotiations as ‘sign of good faith’