When a wage freeze really isn't a wage freeze
How could a “wage freeze” for a group of employees end up costing $200 million? Simple, you let the government handle the negotiations.
Back in April, there were headlines about a pay freeze for unionized teachers across Alberta. Considering the Alberta government will add over $12 billion to the province’s debt this year alone, the news seemed like a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, it was too good to be true.
Back in July the Canadian Taxpayers Federation filed a freedom of information request with the provincial government asking for details on the new contract with the teachers’ union. No luck. Here we are in November and the provincial government still hasn’t released it.
Fortunately, there was another way to skin this cat. We filed freedom of information requests with the Edmonton Public School Board and the Calgary Board of Education for details on the cost of pay hikes for teachers this year.
The Edmonton Public School Board responded that teacher salary increases will cost them $10 million in 2017-18. In Calgary, the bill for the increases is $13 million. However, as an increase in teacher salaries also drives up the bill for teacher pensions, the total for the two divisions worked out to $26 million. So much for a “freeze.”
What a lot of people don’t know is that teachers receive increases through two means – a general pay increase that all teachers receive and a second increase that only teachers with less than 10 years experience receive. The Notley government froze the first one, but they didn’t freeze the other.
Overall, we estimate that approximately 20,000 Alberta teachers will receive pay increases in excess of $3,000 this year and next. Province-wide, the bill will likely come in around $200 million.
The teachers’ union claims this cost is offset by older teachers, who are generally paid more money, retiring. However, they’re missing the point. A true pay freeze would have saved the government an extra $200 million.
What’s also really interesting to consider is that when the Notley government struck a deal with non-unionized provincial government employees earlier this year, the government negotiated a true pay freeze. In other words, she agreed to a pay hike for some unionized employees and a freeze for those who aren’t unionized.
To be clear, what we need to see is for the provincial government not to freeze salaries, but to move forward with actual pay reductions. Thousands of Albertans in the province’s business and non-profit sector lost their jobs or received pay reductions over the past few years. Why shouldn’t government employees have to feel the pinch a bit too?
It’s really unfortunate to have to discuss pay reductions for teachers or anyone else, but let’s face it; our provincial government’s finances are out of control. Even with a 10 per cent pay cut, Alberta teachers would still earn a few thousand dollars more than what teachers in Vancouver make.
One thing is clear, it’s a myth to suggest all teachers in Alberta received a pay freeze this year. Just ask one of the some 20,000 who received an increase.
Colin Craig is the Interim Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
This column was published by the Calgary Sun and Edmonton Sun on November 24, 2017