Many bureaucrats and professors have been collecting bigger paycheques during the pandemic, which means bigger bills for struggling families and students at the worst possible time.
More than 11,500 university and college employees received a pay raise in 2020, which cost taxpayers and students $29 million, according to freedom of information requests obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Students will pay for the pandemic pay raises with higher tuition or fewer services, and taxpayers will foot part of the bill through a higher tax burden.
It’s unfair to make Albertans struggling through the pandemic job losses, business closures and significant pay reductions to pay for bigger salaries for post-secondary employees. But this fundamental unfairness started years before COVID-19.
For Albertans outside of government, the downturn began more than five years ago. From 2014 through 2020, the total amount of compensation paid to all Alberta workers has declined by 10 per cent, while compensation costs at Alberta’s universities and colleges have increased by nearly nine per cent, according to Alberta government budgets.
The CTF has gone through collective bargaining agreements published by the Alberta government since 2015. We didn’t find a single example of a university, college or any government contract that resulted in a pay cut. Instead, pay raises for taxpayer-funded university and colleges cost more than $218 million since 2015.
In stark contrast, there were more than 100 private-sector union agreements that resulted in pay reductions. The largest single-year pay cut was a 25 per cent reduction. A dozen private-sector agreements led to single-year pay cuts that were 10 per cent or greater. These private-sector unions understood that pay reductions were necessary to keep more workers employed and keep businesses afloat.
Fortunately, Premier Jason Kenney is pushing universities and colleges to find savings that are desperately needed.
Not only will Albertans need to pay back the $100-billion provincial debt, but we will also need to tackle the $10-billion government overspending problem. A key part of that spending problem has been the province’s inefficient colleges and universities.
Alberta spends $36,510 per college and university student, according to the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s finances. That’s about $10,000 more than what the other large provinces spend per university and college student on average.
To tackle the spending problem, Alberta’s schools will have to address labour costs, which can make up 60 per cent of the budget at big universities such as the University of Calgary and University of Alberta.
To the U of C and U of A’s credit, both are now pushing for three per cent wage reductions for some of their employees. With more than 1,600 employees landing on the U of A’s sunshine list for getting paid more than $132,000 in 2019, there’s certainly room to find savings on pay.
But university union bosses are putting up resistance to those modest haircuts. A union boss said the potential reduction at the U of C is “nothing short of disgusting” and is pushing for seven per cent pay hikes instead.
What’s truly disgusting is that the union boss wants taxpayers and students to foot a bigger bill to keep university employees from having to help shoulder the burden of the downturn.
As Alberta grapples with paying down its $100-billion provincial debt tab one thing is certain: it’s not fair to keep asking families, students and taxpayers to pay higher costs so one sector of the economy, the government, can remain unscathed.