Question: The premier announced a new approach to collective bargaining in the public sector in Alberta. What will this mean for Alberta’s teachers?
Answer: It’s unclear at this point what it will mean. However, Premier Jim Prentice has talked about importing the collective bargaining approaches used in British Columbia in developing a new bargaining model. There’s absolutely no question that, in the education sector, British Columbia has the worst labour relations record in Canada.
In B.C., the Public Sector Employers Act establishes the Public Sector Employers’ Council and enables the establishment of public sector employers’ associations in each sector (like education). The legislation requires participation by employers. Each sector’s employers’ association must provide for membership by government representatives. The association is also responsible for the development of bylaws and policies. While the association can set these, the minister can override them. Indeed, the minister has the capacity to dismiss the entire association’s board of directors and appoint a public administrator.
The B.C. government approves a scheme for funding sector compensation. In 2010, the government established a net-zero mandate, providing for no compensation increases except by moving money around within the collective agreement. In 2012, the co-operative gains mandate allowed for marginal increases in compensation. In 2014, the economic stability mandate provided for additional compensation if the GDP outperformed expectations by more than one per cent. The mandates, in each instance, make it impossible to bargain. Should employees go on strike, they will be on strike for a very long time; that will serve to break the union.
Prentice has talked about a more disciplined bargaining approach for government. The proposed scheme would ensure that compensation rates in the public sector are low. Prentice has also demonized the public sector, saying Alberta can no longer afford top salary rates. Of course, while Alberta’s public sector salaries in the areas of public administration, health care, social assistance and education are eight per cent higher than they are in the rest of the country, private sector jobs in Alberta pay 26 per cent more than the national private sector average.
No doubt, changes to legislation are already being written, even though the consultation process has not yet begun. Demonizing teachers, who have had no salary increase in three years, will further diminish the working relationship between government and the Association. No one in the education sector actually believes that these kinds of changes will make for a fair process, the premier’s stated intention. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (firstname.lastname@example.org).