EDMONTON - The provincial government's recently announced plan to establish a so-called Corporate Services Centre and outsource certain administrative functions is much more serious than it appears at first blush, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the government is deliberately trying to downplay the significance of the privatization plan announced by Premier Klein yesterday - but she says it has the potential to act like an "atom bomb" dropped on the provincial public service.
"Based on the information we've been able to gather from conversations with government officials, it seems clear to us that this proposal involves much more than a small cosmetic change," says Cormack. "What they're talking about is privatizing a large portion of the day-to-day operations of all government departments. This has radical implications both in terms of jobs and the quality of public services."
According to government media statements, many of the so-called "transactional elements" of the government's day-to-day operations will be centralized in a new agency called the Alberta Corporate Services Centre. Once this has been done, many (and possibly most) of these services will be outsourced to the private sector, said government spokesperson Peter Tadman in a telephone conversation with the AFL. Tadman defined "transactional" services as all those services that don't involve policy-making or strategic planning.
"By Tadman's definition, more than 75 or 80 percent of the jobs in the provincial public service are transactional in nature," says Cormack. "That means that thousands of jobs could be effected. This could be the biggest privatization initiative that the Alberta government has ever embarked upon."
Premier Klein has said that the introduction of the Corporate Services Centre could reduce administration costs by up to 20 per cent, but Cormack wonders if that is the government's real motivation. She also says the government's deliberately vague media statements have left the public with more questions than answers.
"Is this really about saving money or are they simply attempting to use outsourcing as a way to get rid of pesky public sector unions?" asked Cormack. "How many jobs are going be affected? And where did the idea for these changes come from? This kind of initiative was never mentioned at the Growth Summit - and it's not something that Albertans have been lobbying for. The public deserve answers for these kind of questions."
Cormack scoffed at reassurances from Premier Klein that most of the affected employees would find new employment with private sector contractors.
"This is the Alberta government's favourite dirty trick," says Cormack. "First they privatize a service and then they hire all the original employees back to work for the private contractor. The workers are sitting in the same desk and doing the same job - but they are paid less and they loose their pensions and benefits. This is a shameful way to save money and it's a shameful way to treat employees - especially at a time when the government is recording huge surpluses."
Cormack says that Albertans should be concerned about any plan that involves funneling huge amounts of tax-payer dollars to for-profit corporations who are, by their very nature, unaccountable to the public.
"Ralph Klein and members of his government have spent a lot of time saying that they're no longer in the business of business. With this plan, it sounds like they're trying to get out of the business of government as well. They seem willing to hand the keys of government over to their unelected cronies in the private sector. It's a frightening prospect - and I think it's time for Albertans to say 'enough is enough'."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021 (wk) /499-6530 (cell) / 428-9367 (hm)