Northern workers push for living allowance

Federal government employees in the Yukon are pushing election candidates to take a stand on a cut to their pay cheques

Federal government employees in the Yukon are pushing election candidates to take a stand on a cut to their pay cheques.

In August, federal workers in the territory learned their isolated living allowance would be eliminated, after statistics showed the cost of living in Whitehorse was comparable to that in Vancouver.

The adjustment, which would effectively cut the salaries of 800 public servants between 5 and 25 per cent a year, have been delayed until the spring. But with 800 votes in their pocket, local union members say now's the time to push candidates for their ideas on saving the allowance.

"We're definitely telling our colleagues to raise the issue with the candidates," says Jean Paul Molgat. "People will be very significantly impacted by this, we're talking about $400 a month for most employees, which represents for some people a month's worth of groceries."

Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell says he's been speaking up for federal employees since the announcement this summer.

"I've done strenuous work on this and people are pretty happy with that," says Bagnell. "And when they give me what exactly they're suggesting for the formula I'll support them on that."

Bagnell blames the statistics gathered by Ottawa in making the decision to cut the allowance. However, NDP candidate Pam Boyde, puts the blame elsewhere.

"Let's let the process follow, the negotiating process follow in determining what that allowance should be in the way all parties had agreed to, rather than this heavy-handed government coming down and saying psssh, that's it," she says.

Meanwhile, the Conservative candidate, Sue Greetham, questions the future of the isolated post allowance.

"If we develop an economy from the resources available within the territory I don't see in the future that kind of allowance being necessary," she says.

Greetham says a strong economy happens when people commit to living in the territory.

However, federal workers make the same argument in their bid to keep their allowance.

"It's in the federal government's interest to maintain a competitive salary structure and wage structure," says Molgat. "The ability to recruit and retain public servants in the North has long been recognized by the federal government as something that was needed.

"This is an opportune time for us to bring this message forward."