The province’s largest union says if Premier Dwight Ball wants to negotiate about public-sector layoffs, that’s a non-starter.
In an interview Friday afternoon, Ball talked about public-sector contract negotiations and, potentially, job cuts being tied to overall budget targets for spending cuts.
Ball said the government will draw up broad, overall targets for spending reductions and revenue increases by the government, and then there will be talks with the unions.
“(Those targets) will determine the budget process, and then the negotiations,” Ball said.
Last November, when Ball was campaigning in the general election, he categorically promised there would be no public-sector layoffs.
Shorly after the Liberals won, though, Ball revealed the province’s deficit was bigger than the former Tory government had previously revealed, and since then the new line is that “everything is on the table.”
The Liberal government is projecting a deficit of $2 billion driven by a crash in oil prices, and lower-than-expected offshore production, all of which is leading to much less revenue for the province.
Speaking to The Telegram, Ball said reducing the size of the civil service through attrition is still the “preferred option,” but Finance Minister Cathy Bennett has acknowledged outright layoffs are being considered.
Ball said all of that wil be tied up in talks with unions.
“We’ve met with some of the labour organizations and leaders right now, so what we’ve committed to — and it hasn’t changed — is attrition still remains as the primary source for us to see changes in numbers around the public sector, and a fair negotiating process,” Ball said.
“Once we get into that fair negotiation, we will see then what direction the discussion goes.”
Ball said job cuts in the government will be tied together with contract negotiations.
“They’re all connected, because it’s all where you save money and expenses,” he said.
None of this sits well with Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), the province’s largest public-sector union.
Earle said contract negotiations must be totally separate from job cuts, and if the government tries to bring up layoffs at the bargaining table, the union won’t play ball.
“To sit down and actually negotiate whether we're going to lay off 10 people or 1,000 people, that would not even be part of a union function. It's not something we would be part of,” Earle said.
“Let me be clear to government and to employers, that is not something that we actually go to the bargaining table and negotiate, layoffs. That's unilateral action that the employer or government takes, and obviously we would respond to. But that's not part of a collective bargaining process.”
Earle said he’s troubled by the government’s general tone regarding the dire state of the province’s finances.
“We can't have the economy going into a tailspin because everybody's feeling they're going to lose their job, they're going to have less money to spend. That's only going to have a further impact on the economy,” he said.
Ball is also under criticism for acknowledging the government might need to raise the province’s sales tax, after he campaigned in November against a two percentage point increase that the previous governemnt enacted.
Ball said knowing what he knows now, he might have made different election promises.
“Decisions may not have been the same if you had all the information, or if you were able to forecast better,” he said.
“I think you would probably see a different election platform from all three parties. The decisions that would have been made back in November based on $31 a barrel oil might have been different for a lot of different election platform items.”
Ball wouldn’t say rolling back the HST was a mistake, though.
“I’m not going to say today that based on where things are today and all the other information that’s come forward, what we would have done back then,” Ball said. “It’s no good for me to go back then. What I’ve got to deal with is the current situation today.”
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