Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CTF commentary on Bill 46 needs clarification

This morning, the Edmonton Journal published an op-ed piecefrom the Canadian Taxpayers Federation addressing Bills 45 and 46. Regarding Bill 46, the CTF says that the government needed to enact this legislation in order to align expenditures with the revenue the government is (and isn’t) prepared to collect from taxpayers and oil companies.

Setting aside the CTF’s false supposition that reducing expenditures is the only way a government can balance a budget, the CTF makes a number of contestable statements when justifying its position. 
Rather than work with the government to address the serious problems with the costs of public-sector employee compensation, they walked away from the negotiating table.
The purpose of a union is to improve its members' wages and working conditions. It is not the union’s job to address the so-called problem of public-sector compensation.

Also, AUPE did not “walk away” from the table. Rather, bargaining reached impasse (because the employer's offer was less what the union would get at arbitration) and the union then referred the dispute to the dispute-resolution the government had previously legislated.
 If AUPE fails to come back to the table and strike a deal, the bill will legislate one in its place.
Actually, what Bill 46 means is that, if AUPE will not accept the employer’s last offer, then the employer will legislatively force the deal on AUPE. AUPE has no opportunity to “strike a deal” because negotiating when the outcome is predetermined is a meaningless exercise.
There is no good reason for anyone but our elected legislators to have the final say on the province’s budget.
The government wears two hats (employer and legislator) and this creates a very unequal playing field because the government may be tempted to use its legislative power to achieve its aims as the employer.

This inequity is broadly viewed (i.e., outside the Redford government) as illegitimate and, for that reason, when governments are not prepared to endure a strike, governments have chosen to allow a neutral third party to settle contract disputes via arbitration.
Arbiters in the private sector generally do not award raises when a company is hemorrhaging money or is unprofitable.
Private-sector differs from the  public sector because public sector employers can control their revenue. Consequently, the operative principle in public-sector arbitration is that public-sector workers should not have to bear the cost of providing public services via inadequate wages or poor working conditions.

Following this principle, if governments aren’t prepared to raise taxes or explore other revenue streams, then they must accept the political consequences of reduced services. Unless the government is prepared to (ab)use its legislative power to change the rules in the middle of the game and pass those costs off to public-sector workers.

It is interesting that a taxpayer group fails to mention that Bill 46 actually creates two categories of taxpayers. There are regular taxpayers. And then there are government employees. This latter group of taxpayers carries more of the cost of public services than regular taxpayers because of their foregone wages. How is that fair?

EDIT: Here is AUPE's response.

-- Bob Barnetson

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