Premier Darrell Dexter vowed yesterday not to enact wage freezes as he tries to drag the province out of deficit.

 

“We’re not going to touch collective bargaining,” Dexter said yesterday in response to the Economic Advisory Panel's gloomy report of the province's finances, released last week.

 

Dexter said both tax hikes and spending cuts will be necessary for the province to get back into the black. But he rejected the ideas of wage freezes or slashing public sector employees.

 

“Frankly, in this province the public service has been stressed for some time,” he said.

 

NSGEU President Joan Jessome said she is expecting a stormy season of negotiations. The province held government managers and community college teachers to one per cent annual raises this fall and there were hints that could be a precedent.

Jessome said the one per cent figure has already popped up in some school staff negotiations. The province has 73 new agreements representing about 25,000 people to iron out before the end of the fiscal year.

“We pretty much have every single person we represent in one form or another at the bargaining table in the next six months," Jessome said. "I know what they’re looking for and it’s certainly not the one per cent.

“So we’re going to have some friction at the table, there’s no question about it.”

Jessome said public service employees need to be paid fairly, even as governments run deficits.

“You have to pay for what you need," she said. "We’re not talking an exorbitant amount. There’s a perception out there public sector workers make a ton of money. They don’t.”

She also said there are areas other than wages the province and unions can work together on, including job security, pensions, and increased training.