Wage rollbacks: please stand by — Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said he’d ask unions about pay cuts but still hasn’t

By Rick Bell, QMI Agency
First posted: Tuesday, February 03, 2015 10:14 PM MST | Updated: Wednesday, February 04, 2015 06:56 AM MST
We wait. The unions wait.
Premier Jim Prentice says wage rollbacks for provincial public sector workers are on the table.
But they aren’t on the table yet.
On Wednesday, members of the Alberta legislature will agree on a 5% cut to their sweet paycheques. Prentice and his cabinet ministers thumbs-upped a 5% cut for themselves as well. They will feel little pain.
With those 5% cuts to the politicians now going down, Prentice is asked when his government will finally talk to the unions about wage rollbacks.
The premier stickhandles.
“We inherited a situation where there are existing collective agreements which we obviously have to honour. We’ll deal with the realities of those,” says the premier.
“We also inherited a situation where there are public sector wage increases, negotiated by previous premiers and governments, that we inherited and that we’re going to have to wrestle with.”
So the premier is going to wrestle with the pay in the agreements he’s honouring.
If your head is hurting you are not alone.
Prentice says it all has to start with “a frank discussion” about “Alberta’s fiscal position and defining solutions that are going to protect front-line services and mitigate the risk of job losses.”
Is this a case of taking a pay cut so more people keep their jobs?
A supplementary question from the peanut gallery.
Mr. Premier, are you talking about wage rollbacks?
“We have not specifically put a fiscal plan on the table,” says Prentice.
“We’ve made it clear Alberta is going to have to live within its means. We are going to have to reduce government expenditures.”
Prentice says Alberta has to cut spending down towards the average in this country. He adds this province’s cheque writing is “significantly higher” than the national middle-of-the-road.
Besides hearing the province will not increase taxes on corporations as part of the master plan to unscrew what was screwed up by the lamebrained Progressive Conservatives, we are left with what the premier has said in the past.
Wage rollbacks have to be discussed with provincial public sector unions though no one in his government has mentioned rollbacks when they’ve gone to the unions.
Albertans expect government workers to share in the burden of what is to come.
The talk is for your benefit. Will you suck up getting your taxes hiked if you see someone on the provincial public payroll take a 5% hit?
The unions do not know with certainty where Prentice is headed.
Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, where the average salary for one their members working in direct government services is $56,000 a year, confirms there’s no sniff of wage rollbacks from the PC braintrust.
Smith hasn’t been called to attend any meetings on the subject. Not yet anyway.
The union leader says direct Alberta government employees in AUPE have taken three zeros in the last five years.
Their contract doesn’t expire until 2017. He feels they’ve done their bit.
For those of his union members working in health care who are going into contract talks or in them already, it’ll all be in the negotiating.
Meanwhile in Calgary, Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation stands on the cold steps of the premier’s southern Alberta HQ.
It is where Ralph announced Alberta’s debt being paid off in full.
Inside the building, Ralph’s government announced a 5% rollback to provincial government wages a generation ago.
The CTF recommends Prentice be like Ralph by cutting and not taxing more.
Two years back, the CTF told Alberta’s PC government the following.
“Repeatedly ignoring calls for modest spending controls in the past has created a fiscal disaster for the province that will require significantly more muscular action than would have been required had measures been taken earlier.
“In short, the party is over.”
The PC party who mismanaged the public purse and dismissed the warnings of the many who could add up the ugly arithmetic now want to be in charge of fixing what they did — again.
To no surprise, the CTF main man says it’s time to play hardball with the unions after playing softball for too long.
It’s not hardball season just yet. All we’re seeing played is hockey, what with all the stickhandling.