Saskatchewan Finance Minister Kevin Doherty says the province is considering giving public servants unpaid days off to save money, a plan that is also being considered in Manitoba.
Doherty says the option is more attractive than lowering wages as the government tries to whittle down its $1.2-billion deficit.
“This is a revenue problem the province is facing right now. If you look at expenditures over the last number of years, we’re held expenditures at a two per cent increase,” Doherty said.
Doherty says the loss of resource revenue is a major factor in the deficit. To get out of the red, the province needs to look at both sides of the ledger, which includes expenditures like paying employees.
“We put that call out to our union leaders, our employer groups across the province to say look; we don’t want to see compensation levels increase over the next couple of years. Certainly, for the next year for sure. How do we accomplish that together?” Doherty said.
Options the province is presenting include wage rollbacks, capping overtime, and unpaid days off.
Canadian Union of Public Empolyees (CUPE) Saskatchewan president Tom Graham says Doherty’s comments are expected, but he doesn’t like it. He believes unpaid days off mean public workers pay for the deficit twice.
“If you’re a public sector worker and we do see wage freezes, or they’re able to convince us to take a wage rollbacks, that’s one thing. Then on top of that they’re talking tax increases and those kinds of things, which we would also have to pay again,” Graham said.
He adds that this may be a way of weakening the public sector to strengthen an argument for privatizing public services like the Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation and SaskTel.
“That’s one of the older tricks in the books from right-wing governments over the years. They have weakened the economy, and then say we’re broke so we have to privatize. So that’s my take on what’s going on here,” Graham said.
Graham says that he doesn’t doubt the province has revenue issues, but they should also be willing to open up contracts for things like P3 schools and the Regina Bypass if they’re willing to open union contracts.
Doherty says if an unpaid day off was implemented across the entire public service it would save $11 million in a day. Monthly or bi-monthly unpaid days off are being considered. This would mean savings of $132 million or $66 million.
NDP jobs critic Warren McCall criticized the idea in a statement, calling it a “mean-spirited cut.”
“A cut is a cut is a cut. The Minister says that this move would take and this move would save $132 million a year. Well, that’s also $132 million right out the pockets of Saskatchewan workers and $132 million less to stimulate the Saskatchewan economy,” McCall said.
“We want to ensure that we are fair to our public service, at the same time ensuring that we can still deliver the services that the people of this province want and expect and deserve,” Doherty said. “And dealing with the deficit situation we’re faced with.”
The Saskatchewan budget comes down March 22.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister confirmed Monday that his province is looking at unpaid days off as an option to help tackle a $1 billion deficit, but said it would not apply to every government service.
With files from The Canadian Press