Union members and civil servants were being sent mixed messages from Thursday’s budget.
With hundreds of community college teachers and staff able to walk off the job, many were looking to see if the budget would include extra money to ease the situation.
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There was some reason for optimism. Money designated to union bargaining is intentionally hidden inside a larger “restructuring” fund. Union leaders no doubt liked that the fund went up $54 million from the spring budget. The only other new draw on that fund is H1N1 preparation.
But, on the other hand, the province needs to make massive cuts to climb out of deficit next year. The budget contained ominous language about how that will be reflected in contracts.
“If there’s going to be any kind of expenditure restraint the agreements that are made at the bargaining table have to reflect the fiscal position of the province,” Finance Minister Graham Steele said.
The province must negotiate 45 contracts involving 22,000 people between now and the end of March.
NSGEU President Joan Jessome showed no signs of backing down. “I’m not expecting rollbacks. I’m not expecting freezes. I am expecting an increase,” she said.
“You have to have public servants to run a province and they have to be paid. They have to receive a decent salary increase.”