Message from the President – Provincial Budget 2017
April 7, 2017
Yesterday, the provincial government put forward its second budget. I won’t go into a full breakdown here as it would be too cumbersome; however, I will cover off some of the larger issues from your union’s perspective.
While there were no massive cuts or layoffs announced yesterday, our greatest concern about this budget is that it sets the provincial government up to make cuts and layoffs later in the year.
We were all bracing for the worst – living under a dark cloud of what was going to come next – layoffs, cuts, closures, etc. I have heard from so many of you about the stress and strain that this has caused for you and your families. While we can breathe a momentary sigh of relief today, I want you to know that we are, unfortunately, not out of the woods yet.
IMPACT OF 2016 BUDGET STILL BEING FELT
While this budget was certainly not as bad as the 2016 budget – in terms of immediate impact – there are many pitfalls and question marks about what the impact will be for our members and the services they provide going forward.
The repercussions of last year’s budget on our members, public services, and the local economy have been severe and are still being felt. This budget does little to nothing to undo that damage.
In fact, government’s own budget documents show that a number of key economic indicators will continue to spiral this year – GDP, oil production, housing starts, employment, population, and household income, to name a few, are all set to decline further in 2017-18.
SAVED BY OIL
Despite the damage created by last year’s budget, the government was mainly able to hit its targets this year because of the higher price of oil and from other increased revenues (ie. levy and gas tax).
‘WAIT AND SEE’ BUDGET
While there were no immediate layoffs announced in yesterday’s budget, the Minister would not commit to no layoffs in the coming months.
It is clear that this government didn’t want to suffer the consequences of the approach they took last year and decided to be as elusive and short on details as possible in this year’s budget.
However, through the smoke and mirrors, this government is essentially tying a lot of their planned “savings” to collective bargaining – plain and simple.
From the budget speech:
As we proceed, it is important to manage government benefits and salaries as they are a significant expenditure of the Provincial Government totaling $3.3 billion.
In recognition of our challenging fiscal situation, our government will propose legislative changes to implement a wage freeze for management and all non-union employees for the current fiscal year. This includes core government and agencies, boards and commissions.
As we have said all along – NAPE will bargain fairly, respectfully, and collaboratively, but the benefits and rights that we’ve fought for decades to attain are not up for the taking.
We will have to wait and see how the conciliation process plays out. I can tell you personally, and on behalf of our bargaining teams and negotiators, that we are fully committed to reaching a deal at the bargaining table. We are hopeful that the government has the same goal in mind.
DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
We are still poring over the budget documents and will provide further updates as more information becomes available. However, there are some items buried in the budget that I wanted to highlight for you.
Agencies, Boards and Commissions (example. NLC) – excluding the regional health authorities and education boards – are expected to find $42 MILLION in savings this year. This is a huge sum of money and there are no particulars at this stage on how that amount is to be reached.
Healthcare spending has increased by 1%. This is essentially a freeze/reduction when you factor in the rate of inflation at 3% plus. It will be up to the healthcare authorities to try to do more with less.
The government has also budgeted for savings of approximately $100 MILLION in salaries and benefits for this coming year. At this stage we have no information as to how they plan to hit that target.
Whatever this government has planned down the road, I want to be very clear – NAPE will stand up and fight for every single job and for every service.
There is strength in the union, in our solidarity, and we will not sit back and watch jobs and services suffer death by a thousand cuts.
I am not going to tell you that it was all bad news in this budget. There were a number of initiatives that we welcome. As we all know with these announcements, we’ll have to wait to see if they are acted upon. Some examples include:
- $500,000 to begin planning for the construction of a new court complex in St. John’s.
- $450,000 to address the increasing demand on the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador – Family Division in St. John’s.
- Approximately $370,000 to strengthen the court system in Labrador, which includes the creation of four permanent positions (three sheriffs and one court manager) in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
- $100,000 to advance planning to replace Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.
- An increase of $500,000 to provide additional student assistant hours to further support the Inclusive Education Initiative.
- $7.5 million to advance the replacement of the Waterford Hospital.
This is by no means a comprehensive review of the provincial budget, but I thought it was important to get a note out to the membership covering a few of the issues particularly relevant to our Union coming out of the budget.
Again, we will be monitoring impact going forward. With that said, we will not sit idly by and watch this government make decisions that negatively impact the public services of this province and the dedicated and hardworking members of our union who deliver them.
United we stand.