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Government slashes 287 management jobs, shuffles departments

Some 287 management jobs were cut from the civil service today. The announcement was made by Premier Dwight Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett.
Some 287 management jobs were cut from the civil service today. The announcement was made by Premier Dwight Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett.

Updated story: The provincial government took a major step towards downsizing the civil service Wednesday and reorganized government departments in line with Premier Dwight Ball’s vision of a “flatter, leaner structure” for public services.

The shuffle results in a net reduction of 287 non-union management positions, although 90 of those positions were vacant.

Ball said this won’t result in any service reductions because of “synergies” within the civil service.

Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett refused to say which positions had been cut until the government is able to notify everybody and give them time to talk to their families.

Government officials said the job cuts will save about $20 million to $25 million annually, although this year it will cost about $15 million in pay in lieu of notice.

As part of Wednesday’s announcement, the government is restructuring several departments — Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development; Environment and Climate Change; Executive Council; Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods; Municipal Affairs, Service NL; and Transportation and Works.

The Crown Lands office will move to Corner Brook, affecting about 30 additional workers. Provincial parks will now be lumped in with the tourism department, and Environment and Climate Change will be split up, with environment going in with the Department of Municipal Affairs, and the office of climate change shifting to Executive Council.

The total number of job cuts was actually 350 management positions, although as part of the departmental restructuring, 63 new positions will be created. Some of the people who are having their jobs eliminated will have the chance to compete for those 63 new jobs.

Ball was asked whether the tumult in the public service will potentially affect the economy and consumer spending. He said there are 1,659 managers in the public service, so for the 1,300-plus who are unaffected by this shuffle, the news means a sense of job stability because the axe is no longer hanging over them.

Ball and Bennett stressed the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador has the largest public service of any province by a big margin.

In 2015, the most recent year data is available, Newfoundland and Labrador had 94 public-sector employees per 1,000 citizens. The national average is 67 public-service employees per thousand.

“Our public service was 40 per cent larger than the Canadian average,” Ball said.

He described this as “unsustainable.”

Wednesday’s 287 job cuts are just a drop in the bucket, though. They will only decrease Newfoundland and Labrador by 0.6 public-sector jobs per thousand population — still the largest per capita public service in the country, and about 40 per cent above the national average.

During the 2015 general election, Ball categorically promised that he wouldn’t cut public-sector jobs. He said he had to break that promise because the information coming from the Tory government at the time was inaccurate.

“We were left in a situation that we had to deal with, and I think everyone in the province would understand that things changed considerably, and making those comments at the time was based on information that we did not have,” Ball said.

Both Ball and Bennett insisted they don’t have any targets for cutting the larger unionized ranks of the public service, but they also didn’t rule out such layoffs coming down the road.

Bennett is supposed to cut roughly $250 million in this year’s budget to hit her published deficit reduction target. But at Wednesday’s news conference, Bennett seemed to back away from that commitment.

“We want to hit those targets. But as we look at all kinds of different information, there’s a whole number of factors that may require us to think of things a little bit differently,” she said.

“Whether we’ll hit it or not, we’ll let you know on budget day.”

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