"The devil is in the details," says the president of the biggest public service union in the province, and Jerry Earle says the details of the 2017 budget remain to be seen.
Earle said the budget will be a "sigh of relief" for many members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) but he said the wording is at times vague.
Finance Minister Cathy Bennett told reporters that while government will look for efficiencies, there is no need for panic in the public sector.
"It is not a plan of government, it is not a priority of government, to do massive layoffs," she said during Thursday's budget lock-in.
"We always read between the lines," Earle said. "She said there won't be massive layoffs ... So I sit back and say, 'Will there still be layoffs?'"
Keep it at the table, Earle says
Bennett also announced the government will propose legislative changes for a wage freeze on management and non-union employees for the current fiscal year.
Salaries and benefits for unionized workers will be worked out in contract talks now underway and Bennett told reporters at a budget briefing that government has said it wants to have a "responsible conversation" about those costs.
Earle was not impressed by the public disclosure.
"She can try to use that line as much as she wants," he said. "She has to realize we are at the bargaining table. She's made that difficult."
Government has requested a conciliator for seven bargaining units, six of them from the NAPE membership, a move that has angered the union.
The 2017 budget includes $3.3 billion for salaries and benefits, down from $3.48 billion last year.
Bennett said she regularly hears from public sector employees who want to see a more efficient government and identify areas of concern.
"I think an employee in the core public service or in any area of the government should understand that we are working on a culture of spending," she said. "If they have ideas and they have suggestions, we'd love to hear them."
Earle said the new budget compares favourably to last year's, which drew heated protests and put public sector employees out of work.
"That's a terrible yardstick to look at," he said. "Last year's budget, you probably couldn't get any worse."