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Voluntary time off will save BC government $2 million

VICTORIA – The British Columbia government has given approval for 821 employees to take off one unpaid day a week as part of a pilot project to save money.

The number is higher than the 650 who the Tyee reported had registered for the program by Friday morning, but with the application process now closed it is still far short of earlier projections.

“I'm not certain what to make of the number,” said Stephen Howard, a spokesperson for the B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union. “There were a wide range of concerns I heard from members.”

Some employees were concerned managers would see them as inessential if they said they could take the time off without an impact to government service, he said. Others worried about leaving their colleagues with an increased work load, having to do the same amount of work in less time or being able to afford the pay cut, he said.

Others were happy to have more time off, he said.

It would be interesting to know how many people applied to participate but were refused because their absence from work would make it difficult to maintain government service, he said. “We have the leanest public service in the country. For operational reasons I'm sure many workers were unable to apply.”

A government spokesperson said nobody is keeping track centrally of how many people applied as decisions were made in each ministry and department.

With 821 participants the measure will save about $2 million and 20 jobs, he said. When the program was announced in May an official reportedly said that if 2,000 people took the time off it would save the government $5 million and protect 50 jobs.

“We're continuing to push for other measures we think would have a bigger impact on protecting jobs,” said the BCGEU's Howard. Ways to boost revenue include opening public liquor stores longer, putting more staff to work in the forest to make sure correct stumpage fees are being collected and keeping highway weigh stations open to collect trucking fees, he said.

The government should also increase stimulus spending and accept the need to run a higher deficit in fiscal 2009-2010 than the $495 million finance minister Colin Hansen announced in February, Howard said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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