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MLA worried excluded workers will suffer from salary freeze

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart has criticized the territorial government for freezing the salaries of excluded employees.

Last Friday, territorial finance minister Robert C McLeod announced that the salaries of some of the government’s top earners would be frozen for two years, beginning in 2016-17.

The decision affects deputy ministers, senior managers and excluded workers as the GNWT tries to reduce expenditures.

“We are no longer in a position where we can keep expenditures at their current rate and hope to keep expenditure growth in line with revenue growth to maintain fiscal sustainability,” McLeod said at the time of the announcement.

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“Revenues are declining and we need to reduce the level of expenditures as well as restrain their growth.”

Robert C McLeod
Finance minister Robert C McLeod.

On Tuesday, Testart expressed concern about the effect that decision might have on hard-working northerners in non-managerial positions.

“I started my career in the public service as an excluded employee working as an administrative assistant,” he told MLAs.

“I can confirm to this House that I was not in a position that earned a high salary and given the high cost of living and working in the NWT, my family often struggled to save for our future.

“I fully support a pay freeze for myself as an MLA and for public servants in management positions.

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“However, I find it difficult to support a pay freeze that may unduly burden public servants at lesser positions who have less in their pockets as costs for everyday expenses continue to increase.”

Responding to Testart, McLeod said a total of 844 people will be affected by Friday’s decision. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have an opportunity to earn raises within their pay grades over the next two years.

“What we’re doing is we’re freezing the grades so if there’s still an opportunity for them to progress through the grades that they’re in right now, they still have that opportunity,” said McLeod.

That means affected workers will still be eligible for raises of up to 2.5% a year so long as they remain in their current pay grade. By freezing salaries for two years, McLeod says the government will save a total of $3.8 million.

“We have to understand that we’re facing some challenges fiscally,” he added.

“With some of the asks from this legislative assembly going forward, we’re going to have to manage our finances a lot closer.”

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