Liberal Labour critic Hugh MacDonald believes the Alberta government has endangered its negotiating position with a variety of unions because of the substantial pay increases given to Deputy Ministers and other top civil servants over the past year. The compensation levels for Deputy Ministers increased an average of 16.7 per cent to a $183,744 average annual salary last fiscal year.
"I know that compensation levels must be such that you are able to attract and keep good people but shouldn't that same principle also apply to front-line doctors, nurses and teachers?" asked MacDonald. "How can they look nurses and teachers in the face and say they are only worth a four per cent raise?"
According to Human Resources and Employment Minister Clint Dunford, the salary increases for Deputy Ministers were necessary because their salary levels were low compared to similar jobs in the private sector. Dunford said these findings were confirmed by a private industry review panel who said salary levels for management were too low.
"It is extremely important to be competitive in salaries," said Dunford. "We are trying to convince young people, such as University of Calgary graduates, that public service offers a bright future. I think in the past 10 years we have fallen behind private industry a bit."
As for MacDonald's argument that this will negatively affect negotiations with teachers, nurses, doctors and other public sector employees, Dunford is unimpressed.
"While it makes for good press releases, the fact is parties arm themselves with appropriate data and work out agreements from there," said Dunford. "If in fact salaries are in line with other jurisdictions, outside factors should bear no influence."
"If you look at average collective agreement settlements, a lot of good people are working harder and longer for less money once you subtract the inflation rate," pointed out MacDonald. "I don't begrudge paying top executives good money to do their jobs well but it is time that the professionals who raise and teach our children, who tend and care for our children, who tend and care for our sick, are given the same level of respect and are properly rewarded for the essential services that they provide."
Dunford was quick to point out that many of these wage decisions are made by regional health authorities, school boards and university boards of governors, all of which are not directly controlled by the provincial government. As well, many of the biggest salary raises in the province were determined by these boards; for example Calgary Regional Health Authority Chief Executive Officer Jack Davies saw his compensation go from $280,000 to $418,000.
MacDonald believes the government should show leadership by questioning the salary increases at these boards.
"We are having a real problem keeping nurses in this province," said MacDonald. "Many of them are voting with their feet."