ATA News

Latest public sector act is nothing to fear

Question:  I saw that the government has introduced Bill 5, the Public Sector Employers Amendment Act, 2023. Should we be worrying about this?

Answer: Before the internet, there was short-wave radio. Being the nerd that I am, I had a short-wave radio receiver and used to spend hours, often late at night and in the early hours of the morning, listening to broadcasts from stations transmitting news, music, features and seemingly random digits (coded messages for spies!) from all over the planet. 

On the front of that receiver was a knob labeled “GAIN” which was used to adjust its sensitivity to incoming signals. To catch some of the more faint and distant stations, you needed to operate at higher levels of sensitivity, and so you would turn up the gain.

Given the last few years, teachers have become very suspicious of government’s intentions and sensitive to potential mischief — we have operated with our gain cranked up to the max. It is not surprising, then, that the introduction of Bill 5, with its suspiciously anodyne title, would cause some alarm.

When it was introduced, the bill was characterized as addressing transparency and accountability in public sector compensation, particularly focusing on non-unionized public sector employees. Teachers will be relieved to learn that it does not affect teacher collective bargaining, centrally or at the local level. That is because teacher collective agreements are covered by separate legislation, the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act that is distinct from the Public Sector Employers Act.

Teachers will be relieved to learn that it does not affect teacher collective bargaining, centrally or at the local level.

In fact, the new bill will tend to make public sector bargaining in other sectors more closely resemble the process governing teacher bargaining in that public sector employers (such as Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission) will be required to formally provide their compensation proposals to the finance minister for approval in advance of bargaining. This is already the case for other public sector entities and, indeed, for the Teacher Employer Bargaining Association. 

It is important to note that the legislation does not give the minister direct control over the outcome of the collective bargaining, only some capacity to more explicitly co-ordinate the position of employers in the bargaining process. It is suspected that this has been done for years, although informally and surreptitiously.

One promising aspect of the legislation is the provision in Bill 5 to repeal the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act (RABCCA), which was initially focused on regulating executive salaries. RABCCA has had the effect of placing the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund (ATRF) at a competitive disadvantage as it effectively placed arbitrary caps on the salaries of senior managers and specialists that were well below market value, making it difficult for ATRF to compete for talent with the private sector and even with public sector entities, including AIMCO, that were largely exempt from its application. The new bill provides a means to fix this problem.

Although the proposed legislation in its current form would not much affect teachers in Alberta, the Association will continue to monitor the bill as it makes its way through the legislature and ensure you are advised of any developments of interest or concern.

And to my fellow nerds, if you’ve managed to read this far, send me a SWL Reception Report with your address and I might just send you a QSL Card in the mail as a souvenir. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at

ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald
Dennis Theobald

ATA Executive Secretary