Nfld. & Labrador

Nearly 300 jobs cut as N.L. looks to make 'flatter, leaner' civil service

The axe has fallen on management jobs in the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

90 of the positions being eliminated are currently vacant, says Premier Dwight Ball

Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett announce cuts to the province's civil service Wednesday. (Philippe Grenier/CBC)

The axe has fallen on management jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador, with Premier Dwight Ball announcing Wednesday that nearly 300 jobs in the core public service will be eliminated.

Ball, who had campaigned on a 2015 platform that pledged to avoid job cuts, said the governing Liberals had no choice but to prune non-union positions as it grapples with a deficit that is projected to reach $1.58 billion at the end of the current fiscal year.

Ninety of those positions are currently vacant, the premier said.

Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Paul Davis said the government was reneging on the premier's campaign promise to avoid job cuts. He rejected Ball's assertion Wednesday that the previous government wasn't honest about the province's financial situation.

'Heads were in the sand,' says Davis

"We were very clear in the state of the economy and what was happening in the economy," he said.

"If they couldn't see it, they're the only ones in the province who didn't understand how difficult a time we were headed for. If their heads were in the sand and not paying attention to the reality of what was going on in the world, then that's their misstep."

Public sector workers poured out of Confederation Building in St. John's on Wednesday after a day marked by an announcement of job cuts. No one wanted to talk to CBC News. 0:44

Despite significant cuts last spring, the provincial debt is projected to widen to $14.7 billion. 

The cuts represent 17 per cent of management-level positions, and will mean annual savings of between $20 million and $25 million in salaries and benefits, after a one-time estimated cost of $15 million for pay in lieu of notice to employees affected.

It's the latest step to create what Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett repeatedly called "a flatter, leaner" structure in the public service.

"We realize this is a very difficult time for people who are impacted by this new management structure," said Bennett. "These are not easy decisions. However, with our very serious fiscal situation, they are decisions that had to be made."

The cuts are in response to a dire fiscal situation in the province and a public service that is by far the largest in the country on a per capita basis.

Pinprick of cuts 

As of 2015, there were 94 public sector jobs per 1,000 people in the province, compared with a national average of 67.

The cuts announced Wednesday are essentially a pinprick, since they will only reduce that number by 0.6.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett says it was difficult but necessary for cabinet to eliminate scores of jobs. (CBC)

There are roughly 48,000 public sector positions in the province, both in the core government services and with boards, agencies and Crown corporations.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy slammed the announcement Wednesday, calling it "cuts for cuts' sake."

"It's a pretty grim day for a lot of Newfoundland and Labrador families who'll have to look long and hard at what their future involves."

The cuts to management positions follows an earlier reduction of 20 per cent of senior executive positions, and nearly a third of communication positions.

The job cuts were part of a broader announcement that included a realignment of some government departments, though there were no reductions in the number of government ministers.

Several departments and agencies are seeing a change in mandate and structure given the job cuts announced Wednesday:

  • Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.
  • Environment and Climate Change.
  • Various divisions under Executive Council.
  • Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods.
  • Municipal Affairs.
  • ServiceNL.
  • Transportation and Works.

McCurdy called the restructuring just a cover for the cuts.

"I don't see a plan for the economy of this province," he said. "Last year's budget said unemployment is at 15 per cent, heading for 20. I've seen nothing since that would help that, and certainly having a bunch of layoffs in the public service sure doesn't help that."

Slimmer government 

A day earlier, Ball told reporters that the government was continually looking for ways to "decrease the footprint of government" but had refused to confirm whether cuts were imminent.

There are about 48,000 public sector positions in the province, both in core government services and with boards, agencies and Crown corporations. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"We need to make sure that we have the right people doing the right job, which would include the right amount of people doing the right job," he said.

No date has been announced for the next budget.

With files from Daniel MacEachern

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