The Alberta government is asking unionized public service employees to take a four per cent wage cut this year.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said it was handed a new offer from the province on Thursday, which asks for the four per cent cut this year, followed by three years of zero increases. The government was initially seeking a one per cent rollback.
The AUPE represents more than 90,000 workers, including about 22,000 employed by the government. The union said the move is yet another example of how this government is “showing its contempt for workers.”
“Albertans have been relying on these workers more than ever during the economic crisis caused by the collapse of oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin Barry, vice-president of the AUPE.
“AUPE members are making sure Albertans who are struggling get the help they need. They provide social supports and access to income supports. They keep us safe in their work as peace officers and they are risking their lives from exposure to the COVID-19 virus in correctional and remand centres,” he said in a media release.
“Our members have literally kept government running during this crisis, but their reward is to be attacked.”
The government said the unions are asking for a five per cent wage hike, even though the government is dealing with a $24-billion deficit.
“The mandate presented to the union reflects the province’s current economic and fiscal reality,” Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a statement Friday afternoon.
“The government is asking unionized public service employees to be part of the solution, as we face the worst economic crisis in nearly a century.”
The finance minister also pointed out the premier, MLAs and political staff have taken pay cuts.
“Compensation is government’s largest expense and represents more than half of operating expenses. The government is committed to delivering core government services more cost effectively to ensure those services are sustainable into the future,” Toews said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the proposed cut “reflects a pattern with this government.”
“They go to people that they are asking to come into work each and every day, often in exceptionally dire circumstances — and many of whom are not earning that much, who work very, very hard — and they say those folks have to pay for his failures when it comes to managing our books and kickstarting a robust economic recovery,” Notley said.
“If the premier wants to tell one of the hundreds of corrections officers currently infected with COVID-19 because they go to work everyday to do their job, or if he wants to tell one of the licensed practical nurses who goes into any one of the multiple hospitals across this province that are dealing with outbreaks, that they need to take a pay cut, I suggest he should begin by reversing his own incompetence and also reversing his $4.7 billion corporate handout.”
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said the government has been telegraphing its moves on money, but he also believes politics are at play — pointing out the unions are closely tied to the NDP.
“This isn’t all about money. This is a deliberate effort at weakening substantially the union movement.”
Barry said the AUPE will continue to fight the proposed cut at the bargaining table and is considering whether to file a bad-faith bargaining complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
Barry also said a strike is not out of the question.
With files from Tom Vernon, Global News.