Pay hikes in Alberta public sector could mean further job cuts: finance minister

Pay hikes in Alberta public sector could mean further job cuts: finance minister

EDMONTON — Alberta’s finance minister says savings would have to be found elsewhere — perhaps in further job cuts — if public-sector workers were to be awarded increases in upcoming arbitrated wage negotiations.

Travis Toews says there is no money in the budget for raises.

“Total cost of public service is a function of volume (multiplied by) price,” Toews said Thursday. “If the price goes up, we may have to look at further reductions in the public service.”

Earlier this week, Toews said the government wants arbitrators to impose an average two per cent pay cut in 30 wage arbitrations involving more than 180,000 workers.

In some cases, he said, the province is asking for rollbacks as high as five per cent.

Toews said the province has great respect for what the workers do, but public-sector pay accounts for more than half of government expenses, is higher than comparable provinces and there has to be a reduction.

Last week’s budget called for more than a seven per cent reduction in public-sector jobs over four years, mainly through attrition. Toews has said the goal is to bring salaries in line with workers in similar provinces.

Employees affected include nurses, teachers, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.

Earlier Thursday, the United Nurses of Alberta, who are to go into wage arbitration next month, filed a bad-faith bargaining complaint with the provincial labour relations board.

The nurses are employed by Alberta Health Services, an arm’s-length body tasked with carrying out day-to-day frontline care.

The agency had been asking the arbitrator to implement a wage freeze on the nurses for this year, but after Toews’s announcement changed that to a three per cent rollback.

The nurses say that’s bad-faith bargaining because the government is not directly involved in negotiations. They also say Alberta Health Services was wrong to change its position without giving reasons.

The nurses want the wage freeze put back on the table.

Toews said the government has a defensible position as well as a legitimate interest given it pays the bills.

“We’re responsible to the funders. We’re responsible to the taxpayers of the province. We take that seriously,” he said.

Christina Gray, labour critic for the Opposition NDP, described the move as part of a pattern of attacks on workers by the United Conservative government.

“What we have seen is a lack of respect for public-sector workers in this province on the part of this government,” said Gray.

“They’re willing to break legislation, to break constitutional rights of workers, to try to balance our budget on the backs of workers.”

Nurses are in the last year of a three-year contract with no salary increase in the first two years but a provision for arbitrated wage talks this year. They are asking for a three per cent raise.

The United Nurses of Alberta represents more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and other health-care workers.

They, like other affected workers, were to have wage talks reopened earlier this year under collective agreements. The province passed a law to delay the the arbitration until Oct. 31 so it could get information from a panel reviewing Alberta’s finances.

The panel reported in August that Alberta pays much higher on average per capita for services and, in some cases, receives poorer results. It urged immediate action to reduce spending to end multibillion-dollar deficits and spiralling debt.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Public Sector Bargaining

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is now on the path to grant degrees. (Photo by MURRAY CRAWFORD/Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Problems with vagrancy in downtown Red Deer were behind a push to build a 24/7 shelter in the city. Nearly a year after a $7 million commitment from the province, there is little movement on this "top priority" project. (Advocate file photo).
Little progress on ‘top priority’ 24/7 homeless shelter project for Red Deer

No details can yet be provided by the city or province

Blackfalds RCMP are investigating two suspicious fires that happened in Lacombe County in November. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta man charged for exposing himself in public

The man was charged under similar circumstances in 2019

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday Jan. 20, 2021. Miller is criticizing the Quebec premier's refusal to exempt homeless people from the provincewide curfew following the weekend death of Raphael "Napa" Andre, a 51-year-old Innu man found dead in a portable toilet not far from a homeless shelter he frequented. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous services minister says Quebec premier should show ‘humanity’ to homeless

Indigenous services minister says Quebec premier should show ‘humanity’ to homeless

People work out at an outdoor gym in downtown Montreal, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. A new study links the fitness level of Canadian children to that of their parents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
StatCan study finds some correlation between child and parent fitness levels

StatCan study finds some correlation between child and parent fitness levels

Experts say pandemic fuelling apparent spike in eating disorders among adolescents

Experts say pandemic fuelling apparent spike in eating disorders among adolescents

Dr. Samantha Hill, president of the Ontario Medical Association, is shown in a handout photo. The head of the Ontario Medical Association says dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is spreading on social media among all age groups. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Vaccine myths running rampant online among all age groups, Ontario docs say

Vaccine myths running rampant online among all age groups, Ontario docs say

CannTrust employees work with cannabis products at their packaging and extraction facility in Vaughan, Ont., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. CannTrust Holdings Inc. says it will create a $50-million trust to settle claims from class action lawsuits filed after the company was found growing cannabis in unlicensed rooms two years ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
CannTrust to create $50M trust to settle lawsuits, signs restructuring agreement

CannTrust to create $50M trust to settle lawsuits, signs restructuring agreement

Eldar Saetre CEO of Equinor speaks as he gives the company quarterly capital market update in London, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Alastair Grant
Norwegian oil company Equinor completes oilsands exit by selling Athabasca Oil shares

Norwegian oil company Equinor completes oilsands exit by selling Athabasca Oil shares

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on December 15, 2020. Canada's central bank will update its economic forecast for the country that will offer a window when it expects a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to take hold. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Vaccination efforts key to economic recovery, BoC says as it keeps rate on hold

Vaccination efforts key to economic recovery, BoC says as it keeps rate on hold

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Biden delivers on promise to cancel Keystone XL permit; TC Energy halts project

Biden delivers on promise to cancel Keystone XL permit; TC Energy halts project

Most Read