Edmonton

Jim Prentice wresting control of labour contracts, unions say

Labour groups are accusing the premier of trying to taking personal control of public-sector contract negotiations.

'To demonize public sector workers is inappropriate,' AFL says

Premier Jim Prentice takes your calls Wednesday on CBC's alberta@noon from 12:30 to 1 p.m. (CBC)

Labour groups are accusing the premier of trying to taking personal control of public-sector contract negotiations. 

In a speech Monday, Premier Jim Prentice claimed the way public sector contracts are currently negotiated is not acceptable or sustainable. 

“They’ve been hampered by a lack of foresight and by coherence,” he said. “We cannot not rely on one-off settlements that are based on immediate priorities and immediate pressures.”
"We remain profoundly disappointed to hear the premier saying that this is a problem that was caused by spending on public services and by public sector wages," says Gil McGowan, president of Alberta Federation of Labour. (CBC)

Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said Prentice is blaming public sector workers for the current financial crisis facing the province. 

“To demonize public sector workers is inappropriate, it’s unfair and it actually doesn’t address the situation as it is,” he said. 

The one point McGowan and Prentice agree on is the current labour laws are outdated and need an overhaul. 

A working group headed by Alberta Justice deputy minister Tim Grant will figure out ways to make bargaining more consistent and coordinated, Prentice said. Grant will report back in four months. 

Prentice said the group will look at best practices from other provinces, including British Columbia. 

McGowan pounced on the suggestion saying B.C. centralized negotiating power in the hands of the province's premier which led to "poisoned labour relations."

"Maybe we should just drop the pretense and crown Jim Prentice king and let him do all the bargaining with public sector workers and their unions because that's really what's being proposed today," said McGowan. 

The government contends Alberta will spend $2.6 billion on wage increases over the next three years. 

While existing contracts will be honoured, the current situation cannot be sustained, Prentice said.

The province must also look at the framework for dispute resolutions, including public sector employees' right to strike, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, he said.

The Supreme Court overturned a Saskatchewan law that gave the government the last word in what services were essential in case of a strike. 

Prentice said the review would look at the essential services model used in other provinces. 

"Any legislation that we adopt will be a made-in-Alberta model that draws upon the best practices used in other provinces and that draws upon a period of consultation including input from public sector employees and the unions that represent them," he said. 

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