Idea to cut provincial worker wages causes controversy
Published Friday, January 16, 2015 4:46PM MST Last Updated Friday, January 16, 2015 6:32PM MST
Thousands of workers have been laid off in the energy sector over the last few days as a result of plunging oil prices and Alberta’s premier says tough financial decisions need to be made including the possibility of roll backs for government workers who just signed a new contract.
Premier Jim Prentice says he is not ruling out reopening signed contracts with unionized, provincial employees.
“There will be discussions, which have essentially begun, with public sector employees through public sector unions about fiscal constraints, about the challenges that we’re facing, about the need for expenditure reductions and we’ve begun those discussions,” said the Premier.
He says tough times are ahead and all Albertans need to work together to keep our economy as strong as possible.
“We are all in this together. There needs to be burden sharing in terms of how we achieve expenditure reductions and revenue increases and that has to start with the employees of the Government of Alberta and we’ve begun those discussions,” said Prentice.
The idea is not sitting well with the union that represents those employees.
“We struggled so hard to get the collective agreement we've got now. There is absolutely no appetite on the front lines to look at roll backs or opening it up. I can tell you unequivocally on behalf of my members, after what we went through there is no way we are going to capitulate now,” said Guy Smith President of the AUPE.
The province and its largest union spent more than 18 months negotiating the last contract, which was finally signed last summer.
The contract is supposed to be in effect for two more years and that's why union members aren't keen on throwing it away.
“Not only is it not fair, it's not prudent and it's not advisable,” said Smith. “It's a drop in the bucket compared to the impact in the drop of oil prices so it wouldn't make any difference anyway apart from the fact it would create all that anger and angst on the front lines of the public service.”
Opposing politicians say that if the government needs to save money, they shouldn't do it on the backs of their employees.
“They're not talking at all about the corporations paying the lowest taxes in the country, immediately they go to unionized workers, the vast majority of whom are middle income or lower income Albertans, it comes down to choices, it comes down to priorities, it comes down to who they actually represent,” said Alberta NDP Leader, Rachel Notley.
The NDP is also asking why the premier seems more intent on cutting unionized workers salaries to save money instead of increasing corporate taxes.