No 3.5% wage cut? Sask. unions say they'll believe it when they see it

Another pillar of the Saskatchewan government's spring budget has crumbled. But unions are still reacting tepidly to the news that the province will no longer seek wage decreases for workers.

'They still have an expectation' of belt tightening, says public employees' union

Bob Bymoen, president of SGEU, wants to see wage increases 'to keep up with inflation in this province.' (CBC)

Unions with their eyes warily cast on future contract-bargaining sessions are reacting mutedly to the news that the Saskatchewan government will not achieve an across-the-board 3.5 per cent wage cut this fiscal year.

"There's other tightening of the belts they're requesting over and above that," said Jackie Christianson, who represents 7,000 school support workers through the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Those other reductions include potential cuts to extended health and dental benefits, severance and sick days.

"Not for this year, but they still have an expectation of it within the three-year forecast to [2019-2020]," said Christianson, referring to the fiscal year by which the province hopes to reach a balanced budget.

'We'll see,' says union

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said the government will not find $250 million in savings this year by asking all government workers to take a 3.5 per cent wage cut.

It's just the latest pillar of the government's contentious spring 2017 budget to crumble, following reversals such as Bill 40 and proposed library-funding cuts.

But Bob Bymoen says he'll wait and see what happens at the bargaining table.

"This government doesn't have a good track record of being honest, so we'll see what comes out of it," said Bymoen, the president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, which represents around 18,000 government workers.

Mixed signals

Bymoen's skepticism comes from his experience last spring, when Premier Brad Wall first called for the wage cut.

Bymoen says that "startling" demand was not in step with what government negotiators were telling his bargaining units at the time.

"The way it was introduced by government was really off," he said. "I don't think they thought it through. It was out in the media, off of the premier's lips, before it was ever put forward at a bargaining table."

What Bymoen wants to see are actual wage increases "to keep up with inflation in this province."

No guarantees

Jason Tibbs, the business manager for IBEW Local 2067, the union that represents around 1,700 SaskPower workers, doesn't sound like he's holding his breath for that.

"It probably doesn't change a lot given the fact that membership wasn't looking to take reductions," he said of Wednesday's news.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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