‘This affects everybody’: Lethbridge officials frustrated with proposed public sector wage rollbacks

‘This affects everybody’: Officials in Lethbridge respond to UCP government asking for wage rollbacks in public sector
After delaying wage negotiations for public service workers in Alberta, the UCP government is now asking those workers to take a cut on their paycheques. Demi Knight has more on the Lethbridge reaction.

While thousands of public sector workers in Lethbridge are taking the brunt of the UCP government’s proposed pay cutbacks, some say it’s not just those employees that will feel the financial blow.

On Tuesday, Alberta’s Finance Minister Travis Toews said the UCP is pushing for wage rollbacks between two and five per cent to help balance the province’s multi-billion-dollar deficit, saying ‚Äúpublic sector pay accounts for over half of government expenses.”

READ MORE: Alberta UCP asking arbitrators to cut public service pay by 2%

Lethbridge nurses, teachers and social workers are among the 180,000 Albertans taking a hit, but Susan Slade, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employee’s south region, said the local economy is also likely to suffer.

“This doesn’t just affect the front-line workers, this affects everybody and all the things we do as Albertans every day,” Slade said.

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“You have to think about: ‘Okay, now I’m taking a further dip into my pocketbook, so where am I going to cut from that in my own spending and in my own livelihood?'”

Initial reactions from Lethbridge as province tightens fiscal belt with new budget
Initial reactions from Lethbridge as province tightens fiscal belt with new budget

In his statement, Toews said, “compensation for public-sector workers in Alberta is, in most cases, significantly higher than in other comparable provinces.”

Margie Emes, president of the United Nurses of Alberta’s Local 120 union in Lethbridge, expressed frustration at the proposed rollbacks.

On Wednesday, Emes told Global News in a statement the government will be requesting a three per cent cut for members within her union.

“Our local members are upset with the announcement,” Emes wrote.

“Our members are being treated unfairly and feel that the government is breaking its promise to leave frontline health workers alone.

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“The strategies being implemented by the government devalue the work that nurses provide every day.”

Earlier this year, wage arbitrations for thousands of public-sector workers were frozen by the new government, pending a financial review.

READ MORE: Alberta can delay wage arbitration talks with unions, Appeal Court says

The negotiations are set to resume Oct. 31 and Slade said the government will have a tough fight on their hands.

“We hope to see that the government will stop this and will realize that cutting people’s jobs and cutting their wages is not going to help any budgets, and it’s not going to help the recession,” Slade said.

“It’s just further taking people back.”

As part of the new budget, Jason Kenney’s government said it aims to reduce the size of the public sector by almost eight per cent, mainly through attrition.