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Letter: Why did Tom Osborne give away his right?

Finance Minister Tom Osborne speaks to reporters Monday outside the House of Assembly.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly. — Telegram file photo

Many were shocked and stunned when Finance Minister Tom Osborne gave away his right to adjust the size of the public service through a no-layoff clause in the NAPE tentative agreement. If the price of oil dropped tomorrow and our government was running another $2-billion deficit, Minister Osborne would not be able to protect the treasury by adjusting the size of the workforce. He would have to either borrow (if he could find a lender) or raise taxes again. Why would he agree to such a thing?

The minister’s explanation was to say massive layoffs would hurt the economy and they hadn’t planned any anyway. Removing the fear of job loss would increase consumer confidence among public sector workers and they would spend money. He characterized business groups’ concerns as calls for massive layoffs.

For the record, we did not call for mass layoffs.

Minister Osborne is missing the point. It’s Not about layoffs.

It’s about government giving up its right to make that decision if it becomes necessary.

You can’t manage the province’s finances if you give up your right to make financial decisions. Can the finance minister guarantee the people of the province that the price of oil won’t tumble again for the next three or four years?

Even if these were normal times, this clause would be dangerous. But we do not live in normal times. If we listen to people qualified to offer judgement about our fiscal situation, people like Carleton University Prof. Ian Lee, Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, and our own auditor general, they use words like unsustainable spending, fiscal cliff and insolvency.

Government’s no-layoff clause will make it exceedingly difficult for agencies, boards and commissions to find the efficiencies and cost savings they’ve been told to find. This is especially true if government’s practice of pattern bargaining results in other public-sector unions receiving the same guarantee of no-layoffs. Common initiatives to find savings such as consolidation of services, new technology or more efficient shift scheduling will be nearly impossible to achieve. Attrition can’t do it alone.

Allow me to quote the relevant line from the no-layoff clause in the tentative collective agreement: “The employer shall not use layoffs to effect provincial budgetary expenditure reductions.” Other than planned seasonal work, what kind of lay-offs are not done to effect budgetary expenditure reductions?

We respectfully disagree with the finance minister that being concerned about guaranteeing no-layoffs is fearmongering. No one foresaw the drop in oil back in 2015. It could happen again.
I was very surprised to hear NAPE president Jerry Earle suggest a boycott of businesses in an attempt to prevent us from sharing in the conversation about our province’s future. My dealings with Mr. Earle in the past have been respectful.

To Minister Osborne and Mr. Earle: the entrepreneurs and business owners of this province have taken risks and invested their lives in an attempt to start, sustain and grow their businesses, employ people and make Newfoundland and Labrador a great place to live and raise a family. They are the engine of our economy and they are deeply concerned. You may disagree with those concerns, but please respect their right to speak them.

A one-sided conversation benefits nobody.

 

Richard Alexander, executive director
Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council

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