January 16, 2017 3:12 pm
Updated: January 17, 2017 7:52 am

Sask. government tells public sector employers to cap employee compensation

WATCH ABOVE: School boards across the province are being asked to freeze salaries. But they aren't the only ones. Provincial affairs reporter David Baxter has more on what we can expect.

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Education Minister Don Morgan is directing school boards in the province to consider cost-cutting measures as the province deals with $1 billion deficit.

On Friday, Morgan sent a letter to school division board chairs telling them to cap employee compensation for the next budget.

“For the government fiscal year 2017-18 total compensation costs will be no greater than 2016-17,” Morgan states in the letter.

“Negotiations need to commence immediately in order to achieve these goals for in scope employees prior to April 1, 2017.”

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The letter said all public sector employers are expected to ensure that there are no increases to their total employee compensation budget from ongoing negotiations or negotiations for contracts that are yet to expire.

Finance Minister Kevin Doherty confirmed Monday that all government employers are receiving similar letters.

“We’re asking that the level of compensation across government, which is about $7.1 billion in total between compensation and benefits, cannot rise next year as we deal with that financial situation,” Doherty said.

READ MORE: Report offers options for revamping, reducing Saskatchewan school boards

Morgan’s letter also said the government is asking employers and unions to consider freezing wage increases, performance and bonus pay and range increments for unionized employees and managers.

“Furthermore, government is asking employers and unions to consider options that could reduce compensation costs, both in the immediate term and on a more long term basis in order to lessen the need for actions that reduce the size of government.”

In the letter, Morgan said the province is in a challenging fiscal situation, which requires everyone share in the effort to both increase revenue and reduce expenses.

Doherty said that in an effort to increase revenue, the province is taking a serious look at raising and/or introducing new taxes.

“I’m not going to get into what those would look like, you can look at other provincial jurisdictions and what other taxes may exist,” Doherty said.

“So we’re just taking a look at other provinces to see what exists in other provinces and say would work here in the province of Saskatchewan? What would that do to our economy?”

Teachers in Saskatchewan are represented by the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation (STF). The collective bargaining agreement between the STF and the province will expire on Aug. 31.

STF President Patrick Maze said that he isn’t surprised by the move, given comments made by Premier Wall at the end of 2016.

The union expects to enter negotiations in May, and Maze said he doesn’t want to speculate on what may happen.

“We’ve been told by the minister that cuts should not affect the classroom, and we expect him to keep to his word,” Maze said.

Opposition Leader Trent Wotherspoon said that if the government is going to look into union contracts, they should examine others as well.

“I challenge them to roll up their sleeves and go find value for taxpayers on the overrun, the billion dollar plus overrun on their bypass,” Wotherspoon argued.

“What this government’s doing right now by attacking education doesn’t balance the budget.”

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