MLA Bill Bennett says times continue to be tough for the provincial government, and the Cooperative Gains Mandate is the best way for public sector employees to see wage increases in the next two years.
Bennett is responding to comments made by School District 5 chair Frank Lento last week, after the school board balked at the mandate to find 1.5 per cent savings per year over two years to fund wage increases for public sector employees such as teachers and other support staff.
“Our efforts on behalf of taxpayers include no new money for public sector unions right now,” Bennett said. “However, it is possible for unions to gain benefits for their members through what we call the Cooperative Gains Mandate. This gives the public sector an opportunity to find internal savings to fund wage increases.”
Bennett said the decision was made to allow B.C. to continue its growth as other provinces across the country slip further into deficit.
“B.C. is dealing with tough fiscal challenges due to the global economic slowdown,” he said. “When provinces like Ontario and Alberta are more in deficit than B.C., we know we are on the right track, but we cannot take our eye off the ball during these uncertain times.”
The Ministry of Education asked school boards to find the savings, but they must not come from the delivery of educational programs or from the public. Bennett said it’s a trend he’s had to work with since assuming a ministry position.
“I have personally had to get by with less in every ministry I have ever had and am currently dealing with further challenges,” he said. In the fall, Bennett was named Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. “Government makes difficult decisions every day about what we can fund and what we cannot. It should be no different for school boards than it is for government or for families trying to make ends meet.”
Through the Cooperative Gains Mandate, the provincial government has been able to build tentative or ratified agreements with public sector employees. Bennett said finding the savings now will be good for students in the long run.
“No one said this would be easy, but it is necessary to prevent more accumulation of government debt that students will be asked to pay back when they are working,” he said.
Bennett encouraged SD5 to return to the drawing board and find the savings needed to fund the wage increases.
“I urge SD5 to engage with the ministry, the unions and the BC Public School Employers Association to find their 1.5 per cent.”