Thousands of Alberta government managers could see pay bump Friday as wage freeze ends

Thousands of Alberta government managers and non-unionized workers could receive pay raises — some of them for the first time in six years.

Provincial government cancelled wage for non-unionized workers in December

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says the province had to lift a wage freeze for managers and non-unionized civil servants to stay competitive with the private sector and retain skilled workers. (Juris Graney/CBC)

Thousands of Alberta government managers and non-unionized workers will receive pay raises Friday — some of them for the first time in six years.

In late December, the United Conservative Party government decided to end a six-year wage freeze for more than 3,700 provincial government employees.

"We've taken a look at the competitiveness of our salary ranges, and we need to remain competitive," Finance Minister Travis Toews said in an interview on Wednesday. "We need to make sure that we can keep and retain and attract competent staff."

The non-unionized employees range from administrative assistants, whose starting pay is just just above minimum wage, to deputy ministers earning up to $287,000 a year. Two thirds of the affected employees are in management positions.

Opted-out workers with "satisfactory performance" will receive up to four per cent salary increases, and managers will get up to three per cent. Union-exempt employees will climb one step on their pay grid.

Toews' press secretary Kassandra Kitz said the government expects the raises to cost about $14 million for the 2022-23 year. She said other government employees' salaries rose while the non-unionized workers' wages stayed the same.

The raises are in addition to salary increases granted to nearly 4,000 non-unionized employees last December, at a cost of $5.3 million.

It comes after oil revenues gushed into provincial coffers, and the legislature approved a balanced budget plan for the year ahead.

Not only could the government afford the move, it needed to take steps to hold on to its workforce, said Bob Barnetson, a professor of labour relations at Athabasa University.

Six years of wage freezes has made government management jobs less attractive compared to other employers, he said.

The freeze has also led to a phenomenon known as "inversion" – where a manager earns less than one of her underlings – and that's bad for morale, Barnetson said.

Losing a large cohort of managers is a problem, he said, and replacing them could be expensive.

Move may prompt public sector unions to ask for more

The raises could also set a precedent as unionized public sector employees head into bargaining looking for pay bumps, Barnetson said.

Although the government had been seeking wage rollbacks from workers, it hasn't succeeded thus far.

In December, about 20,000 government employees in the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees ratified a contract that will give them two small pay bumps in 2023.

CUPE Alberta president Rory Gill plans to point to the government manager pay increases.

By the end of summer, 39 of CUPE's 41 locals representing school support workers will have expired contracts. Gill says these roughly 8,000 workers put themselves at risk reporting for work during the COVID-19 pandemic and deserve raises to recognize this, particularly with the rising costs of living.

"We would expect the same sorts of consideration," he said.

NDP labour and immigration critic and past labour minister Christina Gray said before her government instituted the pay freeze, pay for unionized and non-unionized public sector workers usually moved in concert.

She said lifting the wage freeze is in stark contrast to the UCP government's opening offers to about 20,000 unionized health-care workers belonging to the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA).

Alberta Health Services is seeking pay rollbacks as high as 11 per cent.

The province is also proposing no new wage increases for four years for health-care workers in AUPE.

Both HSAA and AUPE spokespeople declined interview requests.

Kris Sims, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation said wage hikes shouldn't be happening at all.

She says senior Alberta civil servants earn more than their B.C. counterparts, and their salaries can't be compared to the private sector when citizens are paying the bill.

"We always have to ask where this money comes from."


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.