Alberta government pushes to roll back public sector workers’ wages 2 to 5 per cent

Tens of thousands of public sector workers could be hit with a two to five per cent wage rollback if the province gets its way.

Wage arbitration talks on three collective agreements, which affect teachers, nurses and provincial government employees reopen Thursday. And the Alberta government changed its position from no pay increase to an average of a two per cent rollback.

“As promised, 2019 public-sector wage arbitrations will continue after Oct. 31 with an updated monetary mandate that reflects the reality of Alberta’s growing debt and the unacceptable deficit this government inherited,” said Travis Toews, Alberta Minister of Finance.

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“The revised position comes after the government took the time to fully assess Alberta’s economic situation, including findings of the MacKinnon panel report, which recommended public-sector wages be brought in line with comparable provinces to correct overspending and sustain high-quality services for Albertans,” said Toews.

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“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.

“We are all in this together as Albertans,” he added. “We all have to do our part to live within our means, and that includes government. Our MLAs have rolled back their salaries by five per cent and the Premier has cut his salary by 10 percent. This is on top of five per cent cuts to MLA salaries a few years ago.”

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Public-sector pay takes up more than half of government expenses, and compensation for public-sector workers in Alberta is, in most cases, significantly higher than in other comparable provinces. During better times, public-sector wages rose rapidly – far faster than inflation and population growth.  

“We have the highest respect and admiration for Alberta’s public-sector workers, whose dedication helps deliver so many of the vital services Albertans rely on,” said Toews. “But we were elected to be responsible stewards of the public’s tax dollars and to get our province’s finances under control.”

Each one per cent increase of the $26.9 billion spent annually on wages means an additional $270 million cost to taxpayers, which Toews said forces a choice between higher taxes for Albertans at a time when they are facing economic uncertainty or cuts to government programs.

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The talks were put on hold until Oct. 31 after the government passed Bill 9.

“The pause provided by Bill 9 gave us the clarity and information we needed to make prudent financial decisions that are in the best interests of all Albertans without continuing to pile up unnecessary and destabilizing debt,” said Toews. “The updated arbitration mandates are based on that reality.”

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AUPE President Guy Smith condemned a wage rollback.

“This is a direct attack on the livelihoods of front line workers and their families. This is a further hit to hard-working Albertans who have already taken two years of zero wage adjustments.”

Smith said the UCP government angered AUPE members over the summer and fall with Bill 9, the Blue Ribbon Report, the recent budget, and potential attacks on pensions.

“The anger that has built up is now in danger of spilling out into the streets.

“Over 1,000 AUPE activists gathered at our recent convention in Edmonton. There, they unanimously endorsed a resolution to fully support any groups of members that take direct action against their employer.

“This government is going to hear the loud, proud, united voice of working Albertans,” said Smith. “We’re all in this together, and we intend to win.”

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