The public sector is feeling the pinch from the province’s efforts to tighten its purse strings.
A leaked letter from the Saskatchewan government to school division board chairs requested compensation costs are kept to 2016-17 levels.
“There may be a need to consider such things as freezing in range increments, general wage increases and performance/bonus pay, for both in and out of scope employees in order to meet the requirement to contain and control the total cost of public sector compensation,” Education Minister Don Morgan wrote.
Salaries and benefits of the public sector represent $7.1 billion a year, including for teachers.
The man in charge of reversing the $1-billion deficit, Finance Minister Kevin Doherty, confirms these letters have been sent to all employer groups across the scope of government.
“It could be a reduction in salaries at this point in time. It could be leaves of absence, it could be unpaid days, it could be layoffs – there is any number of options,” Doherty explained.
“We are asking they sit down and have a discussion with those employee groups to determine what, if any, of those options could be put on the table.”
Those working in the public sector aren’t the only ones impacted by the current fiscal restraint.
As the road toward the provincial budget begins, the government is also looking at possible tax changes, including increases.
“It is expanding your base. It’s removing those exemptions, it is increasing taxes, it is perhaps introducing new taxes that exist in other jurisdictions that don’t here,” Doherty said.
The province insists it’s not rewriting existing contracts, but the NDP is already questioning the legality of such a move.
“It is just a totally unacceptable approach. Dictating, threatening teachers and students, for example – it is desperate and it is damaging,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP interim leader.
“Attacking education today certainly does not balance the budget for tomorrow.”
Sask. Teachers’ Federation responds
The letter didn’t come as a surprise to the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation.
Pat Maze told 650 CKOM Monday the premier has been talking about balancing the budget and the public sector wages might be a way to do it.
“Obviously that’s frustrating for us,” Maze said.
It comes as teachers contracts are set to expire in August and negotiations start in May.
Maze does have concerns that in an effort to find savings, cuts could come to the education sector and trickle down to the classroom.
“We’ll go into negotiations with good faith, and expect them to do the same,” he said.