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Stelmach puts freeze on wages

Premier Ed Stelmach used a provincewide broadcast yesterday to warnAlbertans of coming budget cuts and belt-tightening measures, startingwith a two-year wage freeze for 6,500 senior bureaucrats.

Premier Ed Stelmach used a provincewide broadcast yesterday to warn Albertans of coming budget cuts and belt-tightening measures, starting with a two-year wage freeze for 6,500 senior bureaucrats.

But the 20-minute paid address was short on specifics on how the premier will fulfil his promise to eliminate a record $7-billion deficit in three years without raising taxes.

“We’ll limit government spending and live within our means,” the premier said in the pre-taped message. “This plan will not increase taxes.

“You cannot tax your way out of recession. That would only hurt the fragile recovery that’s starting to emerge.”

Liberal Opposition Leader David Swann said the broadcast reflected a lacklustre premier who said little to justify the $134,000 cost for airtime and production.

“I was kind of struck by his lack of energy,” said Swann. “He seemed to be quite subdued and not very enthused about this whole effort to give Albertans a sense of confidence.”

The wage freeze will save $22 million over two years and affects 4,400 managers in all government departments, plus 2,100 senior staff, including bureaucrats earning up to $400,000 a year.

However, this does not mean the government plans to legislate wage rollbacks for teachers, nurses and other public-sector workers, said Tom Olsen, Stelmach’s spokesman.

The premier is simply sending a signal to their unions that any wage hikes in the short term could result in job cuts because of budget constraints, he said.

Bargaining on a new contract with the 22,000 government workers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees won’t begin until August.

Union president Doug Knight said he’s leery of any talk of wage freezes after the bitter experiences that occurred in the 1990s when Ralph Klein was premier.

“The workers accepted the rollback and then the government privatized transportation and liquor stores and laid off health-care workers,” said Knight.

 
 
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