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Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews speaks with the media before attending a meeting of federal and provincial finance ministers, Tuesday, December 17, 2019, in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press

Alberta is asking about 24,000 government staff, including sheriffs and social workers, to take a pay cut in their next contract – something their union says is being done out of spite.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says the province’s opening proposal is for a one per cent wage cut in the first year followed by a three-year wage freeze.

The workers were awarded a one per cent pay increase in arbitration a week ago under current agreements.

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“This is an act of revenge, not a rational argument,” AUPE president Guy Smith said Friday in a statement.

“An independent arbitrator ruled only last week that (these government) workers deserved a one per cent raise and that there was no economic justification to cut pay.

“Yet here we see the government punishing us for getting that minimal raise by seeking to take it away immediately.”

The 24,000 employees also include administration and support staff as well as conservation workers.

Their current contract expires March 31.

The union says the United Conservative government also is seeking rollbacks on the salary grid and cuts to overtime and other premium pay provisions.

The union is seeking wage increases of 2.5 per cent per year to keep pace with inflation.

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Finance Minister Travis Toews said hard choices must be made.

“The proposal aligns with government’s commitment to Albertans to correct Alberta’s overspending problem so available tax dollars can be reinvested into high-quality services,” Toews said in a statement.

“Public-sector wages account for more than half of government expenses. The facts are clear across many occupations in the public service: wages are significantly higher than those in other large provinces.

“Workers also enjoy compensation benefits that are not found in, or significantly more generous than, contracts in other provinces.”

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley noted the arbitration award was the product of an independent assessment.

“The government’s attempt to claw that back now goes around the independence and the fairness of the arbitration process.”

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Toews said last week that the one per cent boost awarded by the arbitrator will cost the province $35 million, so the government will have to save money elsewhere to make up for the raises. He said that could include potential job losses.

In November, the government sent a letter to the AUPE that said union jobs would be guaranteed until the end of March, but the government would use all options available to meet its priorities after that.

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