A labour law expert says the Saskatchewan government seems to be taking a hands-off approach when it comes to how wage cuts are rolled out across the province.
Premier Brad Wall announced last week the government is cutting compensation costs for the public sector by 3.5 per cent in the coming fiscal year.
Wall said he expects savings to come through negotiations with unions, and that the government won’t prescribe any specific measures such as forcing workers to take unpaid days off.
“The government is, I think, trying to keep its hands clean a bit here for many of the sort of difficult decisions that may be ahead,” said Keir Vallance, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
“They’re sort of leaving it to the public employers to sort out what that 3.5 per cent is going to look like.”
Vallance said employers could get labour costs down by rolling back wages, having workers take unpaid days off, limiting overtime or through layoffs.
But the professor adds 3.5 per cent is a sizable cut that might not be reached by managing hours.
“It’s likely that there’s going to have to be some cuts, somewhere, I would suggest.”
Vallance said it’s possible unions and employers could negotiate limits on who is affected.
For example, in 1993, Bob Rae’s NDP government in Ontario attempted to tackle a $12-billion deficit by imposing wage concessions on public-sector workers, including 12 unpaid days off a year.
But Rae’s plan excluded workers who made less than $30,000.
Wall said his government won’t set a threshold.
“Maybe at the collective bargaining table we can achieve something that’s a little better for the lower-income public servants than the higher-income public servants. But I can’t negotiate here, I can’t start stipulating and I shouldn’t. It wouldn’t be respectful to collective bargaining,” said Wall.
“We want to make sure the fundamental services are provided and we want to be as fair as we possibly can, but we have to find some savings.”
Wall has said that all MLAs and cabinet ministers will take a 3.5 per cent salary cut, too. Staff in the premier’s office, as well as ministers’ offices, will take nine unpaid days off a year to reduce their pay by about 3.5 per cent.
Members of the legislative assembly currently make about $96,000 a year.
Cabinet ministers and the premier make extra — Wall takes home another $70,000 more as premier.