Should SkyTrain Services Be Considered A Disruption-Exempt Essential Service?

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TransLink SkyTrain Services

The Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrain services are expected to be shut down beginning Tuesday, December 10th, leaving us to wonder: Should SkyTrain services be considered an essential service?

To begin, an “essential service” is a term used in British Columbia’s Labour Relations Code.

“The Code requires employers and unions to maintain certain essential services to the public when they take job action in a labour dispute. Essential services are those related to the health, safety or the welfare of British Columbia residents”, the Code reads.

Essentially, the thinking is that there are services so critical to everyday life that they should not be disrupted, even in the case of a labour dispute.

Late last month, during Black Friday week nonetheless, the bus drivers strike was expected to result in a full service shutdown. It would’ve been chaotic, but thankfully it was avoided. A full SkyTrain service shutdown may be worse.

So: Should SkyTrain services be deemed an essential service, exempt from job action?

Here are the two sides.

SkyTrains Should Be An Essential Service

It’s safe to assume that most people in Vancouver fall into this camp.

The argument is that public transportation such as buses and SkyTrains are critical, (i.e., essential), to proper societal function. A disruption in services leaves nobody happy.

Employees will have to find alternate routes or modes of transportation; employers may become short-staffed; businesses may become handicapped. (Drivers may also have to deal with increased congestion.)

A disruption in public transportation benefits nobody, the argument goes. Conversely…

SkyTrains Shouldn’t Be An Essential Service

Did you know that in British Columbia, firefighters and police are designated as essential services, but paramedics are not?

This is despite the definition of “essential service” including services critical to health, safety, and welfare of residents. You would think that ambulance services would meet that requirement.

A petition to change that was raised in 2017, but it failed. The most surprising part: the petition was filed by the paramedics.

“We do the job because we want to show up and do a service to the community”, a paramedic told CBC News at the time. “We don’t want service disruptions as a result of failed negotiations.”

One reason why paramedics don’t want to the right to strike is that it could potentially subject them to binding arbitration amidst a labour dispute, affecting the new deal they get, if one is ultimately reached.

Another is that acquiring essential service designation means “employers wouldn’t have the right to lock them out during an impasse in the bargaining process.” This means that employers cannot restrict employees from working, which means employers cannot restrict employees from getting paid.

So there you have it.

Regardless of which side you fall on, all of this is a reminder of a popular saying: “In life, you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you have the leverage to negotiate.”

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