Support staff in BC public schools have reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government and averted potential job action.
The deal was reached late Wednesday night, September 18, and includes a 3.5 per cent wage increase over the span of the two-year contract.
The agreement provides a one per cent increase on July 1, 2013, a two per cent increase on February 1, 2014 and 0.5 per cent increase on May 1, 2014. It also includes the introduction of a pay direct card for up-front drug expenses, and no concessions.
During talks the government wanted a three-tiered system for paying staff sick leave based on the length of employment.
“We went down to 3.5 so we could get the concessions off the table,” said Daphne Ross, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 476 president who sits on the bargaining committee.
A few school districts, like Powell River, already have a superior pay direct plan for doctors’ prescriptions and will be allowed to keep it, said Ross.
According to a written statement from the ministry of education, the wage increases are being funded from savings within existing school district budgets, as required under the 2012 cooperative gains mandate.
Ross said that for many school districts around the province, with declining numbers of students, the government’s cooperative gains mandate is unfair because it puts the pressure on local boards of education.
“The government is supposed to be funding this,” said Ross. “That’s why it set up provincial bargaining like this in the first place.”
Ross thinks that wage increases will likely lead to staff layoffs in Powell River, “and that was never the intent.”
The framework agreement headed off a potential strike as talks between the union and the government stalled this summer over the issue of wage increases. All provincial locals of the union had voted in favour of taking job action and were on strike alert.
The agreement was unanimously endorsed by CUPE K-12 provincial bargaining committee and will be recommended to the 57 CUPE locals throughout the province for ratification. British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association board is also required to finalize the agreement.
The framework agreement covers 33,000 education assistants, clerks, trades workers, bus drivers and other staff across the province, most of whom are members of CUPE.
Powell River Search and Rescue (PRSAR) was busy locating two hikers over the weekend and in both cases location technology played a key role.
“The Saturday search was basically an ambulance assist,” said Laurence Edwards, president of Powell River Search and Rescue Society.
Three PRSAR alpine teams were dispatched to help an injured 21-year-old male who had slipped and fallen near Emma Lake, about 10 kilometres east-northeast of Powell River. The hiker’s right leg was cut and had possible arterial damage.
“It was a simple thing, he just slipped on a rock and went down and hit another sharp piece,” he said. The injury was “pretty nasty” and covered in blood. It was the kind of thing that could happen to anyone, he added.
The team arrived at approximately 3:10 pm and after PRSAR contained the wound, the hiker was transported by helicopter for medical attention.
The first trip brought a PRSAR member and the injured hiker back to the city, but on the second trip to return Edwards and searcher Randy Mitchell, the helicopter had to land south of town due to Saturday’s foggy conditions.
“It’s quite an experience flying in a helicopter in thick fog,” said Edwards.
Edwards said that the hiker was part of a group of very experienced backcountry trekkers who were well-equipped for their hike and had a SPOT device which uses GPS technology.
When programmed correctly SPOT GPS locating devices allow people to view real-time web updates of a hiker’s location and walking speed and include a help button that will alert emergency services. A typical response time between the hiker pushing the button for help and emergency services being notified is approximately 10 minutes.
“They knew how to use it properly and from when the incident happened to when we got there was pretty quick,” said Edwards. “It was quite a successful rescue.”
The next day PRSAR responded to a call from the RCMP about a hiker trekking the Sunshine Coast Trail, who also had a SPOT device, but had not checked in.
PRSAR did not know where along the trail the hiker would be, so the search managers started working out the location of where she should be as a starting point.
The hiker, who was all right and not in any need of saving, was surprised to meet members of PRSAR on the trail because she thought she had been making regular check-ins using the locator device. She had arranged to check in with her brother each day and he would be able to follow her progress along the trail. The first check-in went through, but subsequent check-ins were not received.
“Along the trail she would press the correct button and do everything right, but it hadn’t had time to do its thing,” said Edwards. “The SPOT is like your GPS unit, you can’t ask it something and then just put it in your pack. It’s got to be allowed time to find the satellites.”
For the unit to be effective, it needs to be exposed on the outside of a backpack.
“It’s not good enough to just have the equipment,” he added. “You have to know how to use it.”