VANCOUVER - British Columbia's often heated labour relations climate cooled off significantly Friday at news of a tentative agreement reached with thousands of government workers, the second public sector deal this week.

The agreement gives workers a small wage increase and backs away from any plans the government may have had to sell Liquor Distribution Branch warehouses or privatize the service, said Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.

“We knew this round of bargaining would be tough and it was,” he said while attending the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria.

The deal would give his members a four-per-cent wage increase over two years, Walker said.

He noted the BCGEU waged four one-day strikes around the province. It also implemented an overtime ban to back contract demands.

The union was seeking a 3.5-per-cent wage hike in the first year and a cost of living increase in the second, while the provincial government offered two per cent and 1.5 per cent over a two-year pact.

The settlement covers about 26,000 BCGEU members working in health care, public safety, social services, education, environmental management and other government services.

The deal was reached under the government's so-called co-operative gains mandate, which is an effort to get both sides looking at ways of saving money that can then go towards wage increases. The goal is to ensure taxpayers aren't on the hook for any contract improvements and that service levels are maintained.

Earlier this week, the province reached a tentative agreement with the BC Nurse's Union, which represents 32,000 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses.

Premier Christy Clark said Friday the government set out at the start of talks with the BCGEU to privatize liquor distribution, but discovered it was a huge stumbling block in the way of a deal.

"As we got on further down the road in negotiations it became very clear that it was a serious impediment to being able to settle the negotiations," she said.

"Frankly, we wanted to make sure that we settled at net zero so we weren't going to taxpayers and asking for anymore money. . . In balancing the two, we had to put a little water in our wine."

Walker said taking that issue off the table was key.

"We didn't give up anything to get wage increases," he said. "We're working with the government around co-operative gains. That means things like trying to keep our folks healthier, trying to reduce injury claims and keeping them at the work place."

Walker said he also expects the government to study further the union's claim that opening government liquor stores on Sundays will bring in more revenues.

Union members will be voting over the next two weeks to ratify the deal.

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