Public sector will see quieter year in 2009

Smaller number of agreements for fewer employees will be expiring

2009 is shaping up to be a slower year for labour relations in the public sector with fewer than 100 collective agreements of 500 employees and over coming up for renegotiation. That contrasts with well over 200 in 2008. These contracts will cover approximately 200,000 employees in total, down from roughly 600,000 last year. However, several large agreements in healthcare may provide fireworks.

Public Service. With most federal Treasury Board agreements signed and a new OPSEU settlement in the works, with the exception of corrections, it is a particularly quiet year for civil servants. In September, the contract for the 13,000-strong Saskatchewan public service will expire. The territories will be negotiating as well: the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in March and Yukon in December. A further 8,000 provincial and federal employees in a half dozen agreements will also be at negotiations.

Municipalities. Already in January, three agreements with the City of Calgary for inside workers, outside workers and police have expired. They cover nearly 6,800 employees. In December, 4,500 inside and outside employees for Regina, Saskatoon, Red Deer, Kelowna and London will be at the bargaining table, as will 3,000 Toronto firefighters and 670 Waterloo Region police.

Schools. In June, three school divisions in Manitoba will have contracts expire for a total of 4,550 employees. One board in Saskatchewan and the Yukon teachers will also begin negotiations in June. In August, two Ontario and one Saskatchewan board will have a total of four contracts coming up, covering over 4,000 employees. A further Ontario board comes up in June and a Saskatchewan board in December.

Colleges and Universities. Twelve universities will be at the bargaining table in 2009 for a total of over 17,500 employees. As well, four western colleges with over 3,000 employees will have collective agreements expire by June. In August, the contract for the 8,600 academic employees of Ontario’s community colleges will be up for negotiations. Part-time staff are currently in the process of unionization, so they may well be bargaining for a first collective agreement at the same time.

Medical. The bulk of the contracts expiring in 2009 are in healthcare. Some of the highlights include 5,500 Manitoba homecare workers and 3,200 British Columbia ambulance paramedics in March; 18,000 Ontario support workers and nursing assistants and 11,000 Manitoba nurses in September; 13,500 nurses, paramedical professionals and support workers from Nova Scotia and 15,000 support workers from Ontario in October; and 2,000 paramedicals and professionals from New Brunswick in December.

Beginning from the top (the federal Budget from January) on down, there seems to be a growing resistance to wage demands among employers across the public sector. In a slowing economy, governments do not want to try to raise taxes to fund higher salary costs. The catch-up that characterized broader public sector agreements for the past several years will probably lose steam this year.

The exception, however, is likely to be healthcare where skills shortages continue to plague hospitals in all regions. Here, higher wages and other inducements will continue to be provided.

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