2003-2004 Co-ordinated Bargaining

2003-2004 Co-ordinated Bargaining

Recent letter to the editor.

March has arrived and brings us closer to the end of the weary winter
months. In just a few short weeks, flowers will begin to bloom once more
and the grass will once again poke its nose up through its winter blanket.
March also brings with it the much-anticipated first budget from Mr.
Sullivan, our Minister of Finance. I suppose the pressure of tabling his
government's first budget could possibly be causing some confusion for
those involved, with all those numbers flying around.

No one seems to be more confused than our Premier, Mr. Williams. In a
recent Maclean's magazine article dated February 16, 2004, the very same
article that caused major controversy with the remark about MHA's being
"completely drunk", the Premier was asked this question, "How did
Newfoundland's deficit get so large?" The Premier is quoted as saying,
"It's accumulation. There has been some mismanagement in the last 10
years. For instance, last year public service employees were given
five-per-cent salary increases for three years retroactively. That cost us
$350 million annually. The public servants hadn't had an increase for
maybe 7 1/2 years. But it was just too much, too fast." This is where the
confusion begins and, at least from what I can gather, it's all a question
of math.

I decided to do some checking. In this time of so-called fiscal crisis,
$350 million annually is nothing to sneeze at. My initial check revealed
the following. Government officials told union negotiators that a 1%
increase in wages equated to approximately $18 million. Armed with this
information, it didn't appear to be overly complicated to find the cost
for at least the first year of the total package. I also found there are
some accounting procedures that have to be used in the 2nd and 3rd years,
which could be somewhat confusing I guess but not a daunting task. After
all, if the Finance Minister, who's not an accountant, can do it then so
can I.

I dug out the trusty old calculator for some preliminary results. I must
have done something wrong because I wasn't coming up with the $350 million
Mr. Williams cited. Now I was confused. To get to the bottom of it, I
realized that more checking would be necessary but I was determined.
Finally I did get to the bottom line. Here's the final tally, accounting
and all.

In the first year of the agreement, the increase was 5%, with a cost of
approximately $90 million. In the second year, the increase was 5% broken
down into 2 six-month periods. The accrued cost was approximately $160
million. In the third year, the increase was 5%, again broken down into 2
six-month periods, for an accrued cost of approximately $250 million.

Adding up the numbers, the total accrued cost of the agreement was $500
million, a far cry from the $1 billion showing up on the Premier's bottom

I wonder if the telephone suggestion line is still in operation? Here is
mine. Let the accountants do the math Mr. Williams. You seem to have great
difficulty with it.

God Guard Thee Newfoundland and Labrador? I'd say God help us all.