Nurses and teachers in Alberta won't be seeing any wage increases in their current contracts after two arbitration decisions were handed down on Friday.
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), which represents more than 30,000 Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and allied health care workers in Alberta, had been asking for a three per cent wage increase. The province, on the other hand, was looking for a three per cent wage rollback.
Similarly, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) had also been seeking a three per cent wage increase, while the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association was asking for a two per cent wage rollback.
In the ruling, chair of the Arbitration Board, David Jones said the decision to keep wages the same was not a political one.
“No change to wage rates is justified in the third year of the current collective agreement, particularly given the prevailing general economic conditions in the province, as well as the current comparative continuity and stability of nurses’ employment and the absence of any relevant other public sector settlements that would indicate either an increase or a decrease to salaries,” the judgment says in part.
According to the ATA, there has been only one wage increase (two per cent) in the last eight years. The ATA president said teachers deserved better.
“It is difficult for me to describe how absolutely frustrated and deeply disappointed I am in this decision,” said ATA president Jason Schilling. “The association advanced a very strong argument in arbitration, and I was confident that a modest and reasonable salary increase was possible. Unfortunately, the arbitrator largely ignored the recent history of salary restraint in teacher collective agreements and chose to focus on the state of the Alberta economy.”
Travis Toews, president of Treasury Board and Alberta Finance minister, says the decision reflects the province’s economic realities and aligns with the government’s desire to address what it calls “Alberta’s spending problem.”
“As the MacKinnon panel identified, public sector compensation accounts for more than half of government expenses, and wages are, on average, substantially higher than other large provinces,” Toews said in a statement.
“Correcting wages over time is a critical part of our government’s commitment to get our fiscal house in order. Even with these decisions, fiscal restraint and discipline must continue as we enter into new collective bargaining negotiations in 2020."
He says there is no new money for public sector raises in the fiscal plan.
The UNA is scheduled to begin negotiating its next provincial collective agreement tomorrow (Jan. 14) in Edmonton. The ATA’s current agreement expires on August 31, 2020.
Schilling says the decision will lead to a harder bargaining process on the teachers’ new collective agreement.
“This result will place even greater pressure on the next round of collective bargaining. We will be seeking a long-overdue correction.”