While community members are criticizing the RMOW's four per cent staff wage increases this year, the municipality says that it does not have the wiggle room to back out of them.
"The employee handbook is not a contract but it is an agreement. What a lot of people don't realize is that every single employee that we hire on signs an employment agreement with the municipality, whether they are non-union or union," said Denise Wood, director of human resource for the RMOW
Non-union employees sign a legally binding agreement that states the employee and the employer are bound to the employee handbook, similar to a collective agreement reached with a union.
According to a copy acquired by Pique, "Changes may be made in the terms and conditions of employment contained in this Employee Handbook from time to time. Such changes will be made in consultation with employees as represented by the Staff Relations Committee."
It also states that it's the "intent" that the handbook "reflect parity with the six Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) municipalities (...)."
While it states the increases are not mandated, Woods said there would be repercussions from forgoing the 2011 wage increases.
"If we then said that we're not giving their increases, they would then have a variety of outlets by means of the law of what they could do toward the RMOW."
She said the municipality has labour lawyers who have advised them that they are legally bound, and if they tried to tear up the agreement they wouldn't have much of a case in court.
Wood said it is not a requirement that the non-union wage increases be passed by council, unlike the union wages, which need to be ratified by both employers and the union. As well, the current handbook did not need to be approved by council. An earlier council passed a resolution that allows revisions to the handbook without council approval.
Councillor Ralph Forsyth raised a motion in council to begin discussion on ways to renegotiate the handbook agreement with staff in order to eliminate the four per cent wage increases.
"It's difficult. I don't think people can appreciate how difficult it is to bring that up in front of people, in public," he said.
"To my mind, there are no sacred cows. I am willing to look at anything that saves taxpayer money," Forsyth said. "There is no conversation that we should not be having, but I am alone."
He said he was surprised by council's cool response to his motion.
"I thought we could have at least had the conversation."