More layoffs are on the way, with 930 Government of Alberta jobs on the line, according to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
The cuts could impact up to 546 positions in Community and Social Services and 247 in Agriculture and Forestry, according to a disclosure letter sent to the AUPE.
The union says many of the cuts will impact rural areas especially, “affecting wildfire management, farm-safety programs, the 4H program, business development in Brooks and Leduc and other areas of Agriculture and Forestry.”
The letter said the changes could impact up to 930 positions before the end of the current 2020-21 fiscal year. It also said attrition, ending term employment or re-deploying people to other roles would be used as much as possible to reduce the impact on employees.
The union, which represents more than 90,000 workers, said its negotiations team received the information in a disclosure letter while bargaining a new collective agreement with the provincial government. Bargaining dates are set for Nov. 5, 12 and 13, the AUPE said.
“It’s a dangerous experiment in reducing services that Albertans rely upon to keep them safe and healthy and supporting those communities,” AUPE president Guy Smith said.
“With workers already out of work across the province, communities suffering, and here’s 930 more workers and their families and their communities will be affected in the middle of a pandemic, it makes no sense.”
Other potential cuts in jobs and services would affect the Michener Centre in Red Deer, close the McCullough Centre in the community of Gunn, about 90 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and cut 63 jobs there, the union said. Intake at the centre has been paused since August 2019, a disclosure letter said.
According to the AUPE, Alberta Jobs Corp. would be shut down. The site has been closed since March due to the pandemic.
Alberta’s finance minister said the layoffs were initiated in plans made in the last two provincial budgets.
“These are position reductions that were signaled already in Budget 2019 and 2020,” Travis Toews said Wednesday.
“Departments are just following through on those plans.”
He said the reductions were part of a plan to deliver “an efficient government on behalf of Albertans.”
“We laid out plans to find efficiencies. In finding those efficiencies, it did result in some position reductions. The vast majority of position reduction are through attrition. That’s been the first choice of government at every turn.
“In some cases, it will result in layoffs.”
Toews has previously said Albertans face tough choices ahead of the next budget.
“We’re just heading into a time of public sector negotiations, there’s no secret there. There’s a due process and we’re going to follow that due process,” he said.
“Broadly, I think we recognize Alberta faces a great fiscal challenge. We are facing very significant economic headwinds. I would suggest that our mandate will reflect those realities.”
“We just got word that another 930 jobs are likely going to be eliminated,” said Marie Renaud, Opposition critic for Community and Social Services.
“These are public sector workers in a variety of fields: disability services, so community disability workers as well as people who work in wildfire management as well as farm safety.”
While the NDP saw this coming, she said, it’s still very upsetting.
“Incredibly disappointing to see this during a pandemic when also we’ve already heard we’re losing 11,000 front-line workers,” Renaud said.
“This is just shocking, actually, and worrisome.”
She raised concerns with closing the McCullough Centre, which provides a six-month program for homeless men with addictions and/or mental health issues.
“These are really, really, really vulnerable Albertans, I cannot stress that enough. They don’t have a voice, they don’t have a platform and so for the government to do that in normal times is astonishing to me, but for them to do it during a public health crisis is beyond irresponsible.”
“Jason Kenney promised us jobs, but all he’s brought is pain, with layoffs, abolishments, cutbacks, cuts to public services, and tax holidays for billionaires that hurt everyone,” Smith said.
“The UCP government is taking rural Albertans for granted. They think they have your support no matter what they do. They are counting on your vote then betraying you,” Smith said.
“It is appalling that this government has nearly $5 billion to waste in tax giveaways to already profitable corporations, but is seeking to cut services on which our most fragile citizens depend. To do this while the second wave of COVID-19 is sweeping over the province is dangerous.”
Smith said the AUPE’s goal is always to achieve a negotiated settlement at the bargaining table.
“But that looks more and more unlikely, so it’s no secret we’ve been preparing our members for the possibility of a strike.”