Fort McMurray's Keyano College lays off 74 staff, cuts cost-of-living allowance
The provincial government says the allowance program has not been cancelled
Keyano College plans to cut the cost of living allowance for staff next fiscal year because the provincial government hasn't committed to providing funding for the program, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
At a meeting Thursday night, the board of governors decided the college has to plan for the next year without including that allowance for employees, given that the province hasn't committed funding for the program, said Rory Gill, president of CUPE's Alberta branch.
Laurie Chandler, press secretary for the minister of advanced education, said in an email that funding for the cost of living allowance has not been cancelled.
"The funding for the [allowance] will be provided to align with Keyano's fiscal year, which ends in June," Chandler said.
The minister, Demetrios Nicolaides, "has been clear that our institutions are to look first and foremost at administrative spending when finding cost-savings and efficiencies," Chandler said.
74 staff laid off
Earlier this week, the college issued temporary layoff notices to 74 staff members.
In an email, the college said the layoffs were the result of "the reality of ongoing building closures, event cancellations, and in-class program cessation."
Keyano College president Trent Keough was not available for an interview.
"They haven't been given any idea when they would be reinstated," Gill said of the laid-off workers. "This is already a terrible time of anxiety and unease for everybody, so this is just going to add to the already significant problems that we're obviously having in Alberta."
Gill said the monthly allowances are important Keyano staff because the cost of living is higher in Fort McMurray.
"The provincial government has just made things worse by not providing clarity of funding and forcing the college to plan to go forward without being able to pay this to their employees," said Gill.
This is the second wave of budget layoffs for Keyano College in 2020.
In early March, the college laid off 19 employees, citing the need to reduce its 2020-21 fiscal year budget by $3 million. Those layoffs accounted for $1.3 million of the college's budget reduction, meaning there was still $1.7 million that had to be cut.
This is not the first time cost of living allowances have been cut for Fort McMurray workers.
On March 10, dozens of childcare workers gathered outside MLA Tany Yao's office to bring attention to the loss of their allowances. Some said the loss of about $1,000 a month would force them to quit the industry.
Lauren Armstrong, press secretary for the minister of children's services, said in an email at the time that the cost of living allowance for childcare workers was adopted in 2007 to deal with "a heated economy and extremely high labour demand."
"There is no need to subsidize" wages any longer, Armstrong said, because the cost of living in Fort McMurray is now in line with costs across the province.