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Labour leaders fear more job cuts

Monday, March 1st, 2010 | 10:42 pm

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Canwest News Service

Embattled B.C. labour leaders will be scouring the provincial budget Tuesday for indications of more job losses after what they say has been a devastating year of cutbacks.

The B.C. Federation of Labour, which represents more than half a million workers in B.C. through affiliated unions, is calling on the B.C. Liberal government to place a moratorium on public-sector layoffs.

Still, B.C. Fed president Jim Sinclair is bracing for the worst come budget day.

“I think it will be bad news for workers and ‘the economy made me do it’ will be the line used by government,” Sinclair said. “There’s no area of government right now that you can cut and not cut into the bone.”

Sinclair wants the government to increase its projected $1.7-billion deficit in 2010 and use the stimulus money to provide more funding for seniors and students, and to put unemployed construction workers back on the job to build social housing.

Statistics Canada job numbers released in early February show B.C. lost 4,200 full-time jobs in January.

Last month, the B.C. government laid off 233 public-service employees — 147 unionized and 86 non-unionized staff. That was on the heels of a first round of cuts in September 2009, when the province cut 203 regular and auxiliary jobs. The government is hoping to shed many of the jobs through attrition.

A large portion of the job cuts were absorbed by members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. BCGEU president Darryl Walker is bracing for more.

“We understand the needs of the economy and that revenues are down but the public sector in B.C. is the leanest in the country,” Walker said.

Over the next three years, the provincial government has said it will lay off just under five per cent of the 30,000-member civil service — 1,630 full-time-equivalent positions.

The cuts are a double whammy for unions negotiating under a zero-wage-increase policy set by the province.

“Deeper cuts will have a huge impact on those least able to absorb them,” said Walker, explaining job losses often mean service cutbacks to the most vulnerable.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Debra McPherson is also concerned about job losses in Tuesday’s budget, focusing on the bottom line for health authorities.

Health was touted as a priority in the last provincial budget and received a funding increase, but not enough to meet rising demand, according to health authorities.

That’s translated into a “significant reduction in programs” and jobs losses for registered nurses, said McPherson, who is bracing for more bad news.

“I think we are going to see still more pressure on the health authorities … more contracting out of jobs, privatization and decreased access to services and care in this province.”

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