Camp­bell’s com­ments ‘ clar­i­fied,’ but num­bers still not known

Vancouver Sun - - NEWS - VAUGHN PALMER VAN­COU­VER SUN

VIC­TO­RIA hen Premier Gor­don Camp­bell an­nounced re­cently the B. C. Lib­er­als were pre­par­ing to run deficit bud­gets, his speech con­tained what was taken as a fore­cast of sig­nif­i­cant lay­offs in the pub­lic ser­vice.

He promised a “ new re­stric­tive spending regime” in his Feb. 2 text, with a spe­cial fund “ to mit­i­gate im­pacts on in­di­vid­u­als and ... to en­sure we have crit­i­cal staff avail­able for key pro­grams.”

Then came this hint about pos­si­ble im­pacts: “ We have also made a pur­pose­ful ef­fort to en­sure that it is not just the lower ranks of staff that man­age through change. The se­nior ex­ec­u­tive ranks will be re­duced by 20 per cent to con­trib­ute to this over­all belt-tight­en­ing.”

That brought an im­me­di­ate re­sponse from the main union re p re s e n t i n g gove r n m e n t em­ploy­ees.

“ Premier Camp­bell sig­nalled t h a t [ t h e ] g o v e r n m e n t i s pre­par­ing to make ma­jor cuts to im­por­tant pub­lic ser­vices in the up­com­ing pro­vin­cial bud­get,” said the later-in-the-day press release from the B. C. Gov­ern­ment and Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees’ Union.

“ Camp­bell said there would be job losses for front-line pub­lic ser­vants and man­agers alike,” the release con­tin­ued. “ The premier told me­dia that 20 per cent of all man­age­ment po­si­tions will be elim­i­nated.”

Union pres­i­dent Dar­ryl Walker was re­ported to be seek­ing an im­me­di­ate meet­ing with the premier’s of­fice to clar­ify what he took to be pend­ing and siz­able staffing re­duc­tions.

“ The Lib­er­als seem ready to em­bark on yet more up­heaval in pub­lic ser­vices at a time when many Bri­tish Columbians have been hurt by the down­turn and will need to rely more on im­por­tant pub­lic ser­vices,” he was quoted as say­ing. “ We’ll be watch­ing closely and be ready to re­spond to pro­tect pub­lic ser­vices from a re­newed at­tack by Premier Camp­bell.”

WSome fig­ured the Camp­bell gov­ern­ment was fol­low­ing the same path as the Bill Ben­nett gov­ern­ment — which tar­geted one pub­lic sec­tor job in four in the 1980s — or its own first­term ef­fort to elim­i­nate al­most one po­si­tion in three.

Oth­ers noted that the lat­est threat fol­lowed on prom­ises to “ re­new” the pub­lic ser­vice from both Camp­bell and Jes­sica McDon­ald, his deputy min­is­ter and head of the pub­lic ser­vice.

As in­dig­na­tion mounted, McDon­ald was prompted to re­spond di­rectly to gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees.

“ I am writ­ing to speak to you about the cur­rent eco­nomic down­turn and what it means for us in the pub­lic ser­vice,” she said in a Feb. 5 open let­ter. “ I know that each of you may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some anx­i­ety about how your job and the work you do may be im­pacted by th­ese bud­get de­ci­sions.”

She made four clar­i­fy­ing points.

“ First, staff dis­place­ment will be con­sid­ered only as a last re­sort. Ev­ery ef­fort will be made to ad­dress any im­pacts that should oc­cur through nat­u­ral at­tri­tion, which means not fill­ing all po­si­tions as they be­come va­cant.

“ Sec­ond, the col­lec­tive agree­ment cur­rently in place has not been, and will not be, im­pacted.”

Third, the 20-per-cent re­duc­tion ap­plied only to “ the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive ranks — deputy min­is­ters and as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ters.” For them, this would “ re­sult in re­dis­tributed re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and some larger work­loads.”

Con­trary to the as­sump­tion made by the union, “ this mea­sure does not ex­tend to man­agers and/ or front-line su­per­vi­sors. Any con­trary in­for­ma­tion you may have heard or seen cir­cu­lated in our or­ga­ni­za­tion is un­true.”

Fourth: “ There is no hir­ing freeze in ef­fect. How­ever, you will no­tice fewer job op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing posted in the next while as we man­age through this pe­riod.”

P ut­ting all this to­gether, McDon­ald is aim­ing to re­duce the cost of run­ning the pub­lic ser­vice through at­tri­tion and the usual de­lays in fill­ing va­can­cies. No hir­ing freeze, but gov­ern­ment will be more choosy about fill­ing open­ings. Prob­a­bly it will con­cen­trate on key jobs where re­cruit­ment may be eas­ier with less com­pe­ti­tion from the pri­vate sec­tor.

Left un­said is what hap­pens if those mea­sures don’t pro­duce the nec­es­sary bud­get sav­ings. Then, pre­sum­ably, there would be lay­offs.

But from the tone of her let­ter, I’d ex­pect con­sid­er­ably less than the 20-per-cent tar­get for se­nior ex­ec­u­tive ranks. More on the or­der of the sev­eral thou­sand po­si­tions elim­i­nated by the Glen Clark gov­ern­ment in the mid-1990s, most of which were ac­com­plished vol­un­tar­ily, without lay­offs.

A fuller break­down will pre­sum­ably be more ap­par­ent when the bud­get and three-year fis­cal plan is tabled in the leg­is­la­ture on Tues­day. Pub­lic ser­vants will be watch­ing to see what hap­pens with one other line item in that doc­u­ment.

Last year, the plan in­cluded a con­tin­gency of $ 400 mil­lion for in­creased pub­lic sec­tor com­pen­sa­tion start­ing April 1 of next year, af­ter most cur­rent con­tracts ex­pire.

Pes­simists ex­pect when the re­vised three-year plan is tabled next week, the dol­lars set aside for fu­ture pay in­creases will be re­duced to zero.

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