Conservation Officer Service: Classification Referee Decision and Next Steps

April 2, 2015

To:                  All BCGEU Members of the Conservation Officer Service

Re:                  Summary of Decision and Next Steps

Based on feedback from our Working Group on the Benchmark Review, we think that it is important to summarize the decision of the Classification Referee with respect to the Sergeant and Detective Sergeant, MIU benchmarks.

Highlights of the Classification Referee Decision:


The Classification Referee only has jurisdiction to make a decision based on the existing Public Service Job Evaluation Plan ("the Plan") and the existing benchmarks, which form part of the Plan. The BCGEU and the PSA ("the Parties") agreed to the Plan in bargaining, and only the Parties can negotiate changes to the Plan. This means that the decision of the Classification Referee cannot establish a new application or interpretation to the Plan, including how the Plan rates certain activities established through existing benchmark examples. Throughout the decision, Classification Referee, Vicki Averill clarifies points regarding her jurisdiction and to what her decision is limited.

Supporting Evidence

A significant amount of information was submitted to the Classification Referee from both the PSA and the Union. The majority of that information was to provide context for the Classification Referee who had not been involved in all of the discussions throughout the review.

The Union's Benchmark Review Working Group ("the Working Group") had extensive involvement in providing content for the Union's submissions, and volunteered a lot of personal time and energy reviewing and providing input for the Union's arguments prior to the submissions being put forward to the Classification Referee. The Working Group also confirmed all submissions to the Classification Referee.

Since the onus is on the Union to prove that the work the benchmark performs meets the test in each disputed factor, supporting evidence for the Union is limited to work examples provided by the incumbents, which the Employer has an opportunity to verify. Then those work examples can only be compared to existing benchmarks to demonstrate how and/or why they meet the test in the higher degree rating.

Any other documents submitted provide context for the Classification Referee, so that they can make their decision.

Sergeant Benchmark

The Union disputed Factors 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11. We argued that the Sergeant benchmark had the equivalent Job Knowledge, Mental Demands, Interpersonal Communication, Responsibility for Work Assignments, and Responsibility for Assets as the Regional Habitat Section Head benchmark. We also argued that Sergeants, who are uniformed officers, require very heavy physical effort to do their work in the field.

The Classification Referee determined that the work done by the Sergeant benchmark did not meet the higher test in Factors 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 based on the organizational structure of the Conservation Officer Service and how the Sergeant benchmark functions within the Conservation Officer Service. On page 25 of the decision, the Classification Referee states that "it is not whether the overall program is significant, but the impact the individual position has on its area of operation within that program." This appears in her decision regarding Factor 5 – Responsibility for Work Assignments, but the statement is also true for the other factors. The Sergeant benchmark is not required to have overall knowledge of the Conservation Officer Service, nor does the benchmark possess the higher level accountability to make decisions that impact all of Field Operations, or the overall Conservation Officer Service.

In Factor 11, the Classification Referee did not agree with the Union's argument that very heavy physical effort is required for a Sergeant to perform work in the field. The Classification Referee did not agree that very heavy physical effort was required to perform the work based on an analysis of the time spent in the field as a supervisory position.

Therefore, in all of the disputed factors, the Classification Referee found that the Sergeant benchmark did not meet the test at the higher degree level.

Detective Sergeants – Major Investigations Unit

The Union disputed Factors 5 – Responsibility for Work Assignments and Factor 6 – Financial Responsibility. The Union argued that when the Detective Sergeant benchmark leads a major and complex investigation, a higher level of accountability is required to make decisions throughout the course of the investigations about work flow and budgetary requirements.

The Classification Referee refers to the Major Investigations Unit Business Rules and determined that based on the Command Triangle, the higher level of accountability for the investigation lies with the Team Commander, in terms of the overall work flow of a single major and complex investigation based on its relative priority to concurrent major and complex investigations, and the Team Commander would also have the higher level financial responsibility. Currently, the Team Commander role rests with the Staff Sergeant. The Detective Sergeant benchmark still requires significant responsibility to make decisions as a lead investigator, which is reflected in the change to the rating in Factor 2 – Mental Demands. Based on the nature of the work within Major investigations, the Classification Referee found that if a decision regarding an individual major and complex investigation impacts other investigations, then it would have to be escalated to the Team Commander.

Therefore, the Detective Sergeant benchmark did not meet the higher Financial Responsibility or Responsibility for Work Assignments in the Plan.

Factor 3 – Interpersonal Communication

The Union argued this factor for both the Sergeant and Detective Sergeant benchmarks. The Union argued that the Sergeants should be credited with the highest degree level for interpersonal communication skills at Degree E for conducting formal negotiations in an equivalent way to the Regional Habitat Section Head benchmark example. The Classification Referee found, however, that the Inspector had that level of accountability which therefore limited the credit that could be given to the Sergeants for their role in negotiations.

For both the Sergeant and Detective Sergeants, the Union argued that the benchmark positions were required to intervene in, or resolve conflict at the crisis stage which would credit them at the highest degree level in this factor. The Classification Referee, however, agreed with the PSA that the positions could only be credited at Degree D. The Referee's decision was based on the fact that there are two existing benchmarks that use crisis intervention in the Plan at Degree E, and both illustrate that formal counselling is required in a therapeutic context.

This is another example where the Classification Referee's decision was limited to a strict application of the Plan. She did not agree to the Union's argument for this factor because it would mean that she would be creating a  new application or change to the Plan which is something that only the Bargaining Principles can agree to do.

We know that the result is disappointing, but the Working Group and the Staff Representative put together every conceivable argument to advocate for these benchmarks to be upgraded through this process.


The Classification Referee's decision is final and binding. The decision impacts the Union's arguments for the Conservation Officer benchmark, other positions being considered in the Benchmark Review, and other classification appeals.

The Classification Referee's decision confirms both the Sergeant benchmark at Grid 27 and the Detective Sergeant, MIU benchmark at Grid 24.

Conservation Officer Benchmark

Following the Classification Referee’s decision, the Parties have agreed that there was a significant change to the work performed by the Conservation Officer Benchmark. We are pleased to advise that this has resulted in the benchmark being reclassified from Grid 21 to Grid 24.

A number of changes were agreed to for this benchmark, which supported higher ratings and resulted in a reclassification to a higher grid level. In particular, the focus group meetings provided examples where the Conservation Officer benchmark received credit for independent planning and modifying techniques and approaches to implement programs to suit the unique circumstances in the communities that are served. With input from Working Group members, the benchmark was also credited for the expectation to assign, monitor and provide performance feedback to investigation team members, when leading an investigation in the field.

All three benchmarks were also rated at the highest degree level in two factors for occasional participation in emergency response and/or rescue.

Review of Remaining Positions

Now that the benchmarks have been decided, the Union will work with the PSA to review the remaining bargaining unit positions within the Conservation Officer Service. Once all of the positions have been reviewed, we will proceed to resolve the appeals that have been held in abeyance.

The Union has also been made aware of concerns that have been raised throughout the process, which cannot be dealt with through the Benchmark Review. These have been brought forward to your component for further discussion.

Thank you for your continued patience throughout this process.

In solidarity,

Selena Kongpreecha
Staff Representative