EDMONTON - The provincial government's budget does not set aside nearly enough money to cover long-overdue wage increases for the majority of public sector workers, says the Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"It's great that money is being put in place to boost the salaries of nurses and teachers," says Les Steel. "But they're not the only public sector workers who have made sacrifices over the past seven or eight years. Given the size of the budget surplus, this government could have afforded to pay back all public sector workers, not just a chosen few."
Steel was particularly critical of the government's decision to earmark funds specifically for wage increases for nurses and teachers instead of boosting overall funding for regional health authorities, school boards and other public sector employers.
He warned this approach is similar to the one taken by the Harris government in Ontario, where school boards were given money to finance raises for teachers but not enough to pay for increases for support staff. The result has been bitter a three-week strike by support workers.
"The only way to avoid a similar scenario from playing our here is to make sure public employers have enough funds to negotiate fairly with all of their employees," says Steel, adding that, when inflation is taken into account, most public sector workers in the province are currently earning between 10 and 15 percent less than the did in 1993.
Steel also expressed regret that the government is not using its huge budget surplus "to build something lasting for the future."
"This government is taking oil and gas out of the ground at a record pace. But what will we have to show for it when it's all gone?" he asks.
"The revenues generated by this bonanza could be used to leave a real legacy for future generations. We could be investing in a better system of workplace training and apprenticeship to meet the shortage of skilled workers. We could be investing in a universal, $5-dollar-a-day childcare program that would ease the financial crunch on young families.
"We could be investing in a pharmacare program that brings down they cost of prescription drugs. We could be doing any or all of these things - but instead the government has decided to do muddle along. So in the end, this budget represents nothing more than a tremendous, squandered opportunity."
For more information call:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ (780) 483-3021
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021