Instead, the Liberals announced a pending wage freeze for management and all non-union employees for the fiscal year.
Finance Minister Cathy Bennett told members of the media that the government acknowledges the importance of managing the $3.3 billion allotted for government employee salaries and benefits.
The wage freeze includes core government and agencies, boards and commissions.
The budget is expected to save $41.9 million from extended government agencies.
“To come up with that money, there could be job losses,” said Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees. “There may not be direct job loss outlined in the budget today, but we have questions about the possibility in three or six months.”
Bennett said that if the opportunity arises to increase the efficiency of government services via reduction, those options have to be explored.
“An employee who is in the core public service, or any area of government, should understand that we’re working on the culture of spending,” Bennett said. “If they’ve got ideas or suggestions, I’d love to hear from them.”
Concerning the unions, Bennett said talks have begun.
“We want to have a responsible conversation about the costs of salaries and benefits to the provincial government,” Bennett said.
Earle said he is hopeful concerning negotiations, but finds much of the government’s budget discouraging.
“This budget does very little to repair the damage that was done last year to young people, to rural communities,” Earle said.
Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council, said the move to re-examine the public sector was a logical choice.
“Everyone in the province has borne the responsibility of this fiscal crisis except for the public-sector unions,” Alexander said. “This year, public-sector unions need to come to the negotiation table, with concessions, to help shoulder responsibility.”
According to Alexander, the government owes the province’s citizens a thank you.
“If you look at last year’s numbers, it’s clear that taxpayers in this province bailed out the government from bankruptcy,” he said.
One thing both Earle and Alexander agreed upon was that this budget was presented very differently from the previous one.
Debbie Forward, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union, took some comfort in the government’s change of approach.
“It was a much better feeling in the room today compared to last year,” Forward said. “It was somewhat of a relief to see that the government listened to the unions and advocacy groups that put out the message saying we won’t stand by job cuts.”
Forward said she acknowledges the possibility for layoffs still exists, but hopes the union will be able to voice its input. She hopes the union will have an active part in discussions long before any decisions are made.
However, Forward said she is worried by some of the expenditure projections.
“When you look at the government’s projections for the next six years, it’s pretty flat,” she said. “The question becomes, how are you going to maintain the health care standards of the province with a flat line of spending.”
Bennett preached communication throughout much of her budget speech, highlighting that the government has an active dialogue with union leadership.
“Efficiencies can come in a variety of ways,” Bennett said.