MASS EDUCATION LAYOFFS A TERRIBLE PRECEDENT
UCP claims it’s ‘obsessed’ with job creation but does something sensationally wrong
Alberta’s unemployment rate was 7.2 per cent in February.
It’s about to climb to levels unknown, because of COVID-19 and crashed oil prices.
And now, your Alberta government is adding up to 20,000 layoffs from K-12 education until kids are back in the classroom.
This latest move by a government in hyperdrive is almost beyond belief.
How can politicians claiming to be “obsessed” with job creation and retention inflict by far the biggest single batch of layoffs in Canada?
These people are education assistants, drivers, secretaries and other support staff. The UCP thinks they’re lounging about uselessly because kids aren’t attending schools.
By dumping them for as long as the crisis lasts, about $120 million will be freed up to help with the COVID-19 fight. So says
Education Minister Adriana Lagrange.
But many of these people are working on the complex business of setting up home learning, and actually delivering it.
One mom noted on social media that her kids have a total of 17 courses. There has to be teacher contact with parents and kids for every one.
Video and phone conferencing must be organized. Parents report working full days on this themselves. Classroom assistants are deeply involved.
Provincewide home learning is arguably a more complex task than just having those kids in front of the teacher in a classroom. It’s simply false to imply that assistants and support staff are being paid for doing nothing.
More remarkably still, Lagrange says the laid-off employees can get employment insurance. There’s even a government argument that some substitute teachers could actually make more money on federal EI.
What it really means, though, is that people who are now doing something useful will be paid public money for genuinely doing nothing. It’s hard to imagine a longer leap from UCP ideology.
Mind you, deflecting part of the wage bill to the federal treasury might please many Albertans, considering that the feds owe the province a good $2.6 billion in fiscal stabilization payments.
But this is a terrible precedent. The government is taking money from one group of employees and dedicating it to a public health emergency for which they are in no way responsible, or even connected.
This is just a way to make the layoffs more palatable. But it raises the question — who’s next? Will nurses be laid off to fight a wildfire? The thought is no less absurd.
And there’s this: The suddenly unemployed, as they apply for
EI, could further clog a system already full to bursting. That’s hardly fair to the many thousands who have lost private-sector jobs.
The layoffs were announced Saturday in a news release with the minister nowhere in sight, as if it’s just a small thing, when in fact the numbers are simply staggering.
Westjet shed 6,900 jobs, many through retirement and voluntary packages, and the UCP quite properly lamented.
Then the government simply stops funding 20,000 jobs, and that’s quite OK because we’re fighting a virus here.
We certainly are. Nobody less than 100 years old has ever seen anything like it.
But this overwhelming, primal worry can provide cover for governments to take stupid and dubious actions.
The federal Liberals tried that with their appalling emergency spending bill, which would have given the Justin Trudeau cabinet dictatorial power over taxes and spending for nearly two years.
Fortunately, the opposition slapped that down. But the
UCP has a dominating majority and can do pretty much what it wants. In this case, it has done something sensationally wrong.
These layoffs oddly echo what’s happening to physicians. Family docs report sharp revenue losses because they’re seeing fewer patients, whether for urgent personal visits or by phone and video consultation.
Doctors pay rent and maintenance from their billings, their only source of revenue. A sharp decline puts pressure on practice partners to lay off essential support workers who handle bookings and administrative chores.
Remaining doctors then do more non-medical work. The practice shrinks and becomes a less-effective weapon against COVID -19.
The best solution is direct support for office costs. But we’ve heard nothing of that.
In a time of crisis these problems require a firm but delicate touch. The UCP is more inclined to the sledgehammer.
Education Minister Adriana Lagrange was nowhere to be seen when layoffs were announced by news release.