EDMONTON — The Alberta government is seeking wage rollbacks as binding arbitration gets set to resume with more than 180,000 public sector workers.
Finance Minister Travis Toews says the government will ask arbitrators to impose a two per cent wage cut.
He says the province has great respect for what the workers do, but that public sector pay accounts for more than half of government expenses and is higher than comparable provinces.
Workers affected include nurses, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.
They were to have their wages reopened earlier this year under collective agreements, but the province passed a law to delay them until Oct. 31 so it could get information from a panel studying Alberta’s finances.
The unions have been asking for pay raises ranging from three per cent to almost eight per cent, and the government had been asked for a wage freeze.
Toews says circumstances now demand a two per cent cut.
“We cannot ask Alberta taxpayers to fund public-sector pay raises during a time when far too many workers in the private sector have lost their jobs and many others have seen significant pay cuts in recent years,” Toews said in a news release Tuesday.
Cuts will make economic slump worse, says AUPE president
AUPE President Guy Smith says the union is disappointed at the news of the cuts.
“Our members, I can tell you, are quite angry. And this is anger that’s been bubbling up over time, ever since Bill 9 was introduced,” said Smith.
“This is just rubbing salt in the wounds of the frontline workers that provide services to Albertans every single day.”
Smith says cutting wages is the worst thing Premier Jason Kenney could do in an attempt to fix the economy.
“If Jason Kenney and his government believe we’re in an economic slump, this announcement just makes it that much worse. The worst thing you can do is take money out of workers’ pockets because they actually stimulate the economy.”
Smith says he’ll be in touch with other union members over the coming days to hear their concerns. He also says if these cuts are just a matter of “posturing”–the government looking for a wage freeze instead of the pay raises the unions want–the UCP is playing an “extremely dangerous” game.
“What they’re doing is they’re tapping into pent-up anger of frontline workers and it almost feels like they’re trying to draw us into a battle,” said Smith.
“If that’s what they want to do, it’ll be a fight they’ll get. And we’ve been preparing our members for many, many months for the challenges that now are in front of us and our members are strong and united.”
Smith anticipates more protests and information pickets staged by AUPE members.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is voicing similar thoughts to that of AUPE, accusing the UCP of “misrepresenting facts”.
“Jason Kenney and the UCP have broken faith with the thousands and thousands of public-sector Albertans who helped elect them. During the election campaign, they promised that front-line public sector workers would not lose their jobs. They also never mentioned public-sector wage cuts,” begins a statement from AFL President Gil McGowan.
“Contrary to the promises made by the UCP during the election, when the Kenney government’s first budget was tabled last Thursday, it revealed that thousands of public sector positions will, indeed, be eliminated.”
“With the Finance Minister’s announcement today that he intends to cut wages by as much as five percent – even though most public-sector workers had already voluntarily agreed to wages freezes for the past two years – the UCP is continuing their practice of misrepresenting the facts.
McGowan says workers won’t be staying silent as the UCP launches “an assault” jobs and standard of living.
The Canadian Press