The Saskatchewan government is offering a severance deal to hundreds of Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority employees who will lose their jobs as the Crown corporation winds down its retail operations, says the union that represents those workers.
The Saskatchewan Party government announced in its throne speech last fall that it would be closing down the provincially run liquor stores.
While the SLGA will continue to operate the wholesale side of the liquor business in the province, the 34 liquor stores operated by the Crown corporation — out of about 600 liquor retailers in the province — are winding down operations as the province moves toward fully privatizing retail liquor sales.
The last of the stores are expected to be shut down by March 31, but stores already have empty shelves after stock was sold at heavy discounts during the holiday season.
Bob Stadnichuk, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, says negotiations on severance for employees who will soon be out of work started in early November.
"But we knew we were negotiating with the government and not SLGA, as they were the messengers receiving instructions from [the government]," he said.
Stadnichuk wouldn't go into specific details about the severance packages, which will vary depending on job type, but said most employees would be offered a year's salary.
While a few are happy to "receive at least something" from the government, Stadnichuk emphasized that employees would far rather keep their jobs.
Many are people who have worked for SLGA for years, and now are looking for jobs in the 40s or 50s, "which will be very difficult," he said.
"The members have gone from disbelief to sadness and despondency to now anger creeping in their voices," he said.
"That anger is against the government, who never consulted with its 400 employees. The government brags about growth in Saskatchewan. How does this contribute to it?"
Severance costs will be offset: province
In a written statement on Monday, the province said it does not "publicly disclose details about negotiated agreements," but that there will be one-time costs associated with winding down SLGA's retail operations, including human resources-related costs.
Those costs "will be offset from revenue associated with the sale of permits and the disposal of physical assets such as buildings," the statement read.
Minister of Liquor and Gaming Lori Carr told reporters last Tuesday that the province owns 19 of the 34 properties that will eventually be sold.
Some revenues from the winding down "would be offset by the workforce adjustment plan we did with the employees that were involved," she said.
But "the whole point is that the retail stores that the government owns, when you put them all together, eventually we will be losing money," said Carr, in part because of the expense of bringing the stores up to date.
Every year, revenue "has exponentially gone down," Carr said. "We expect to start losing money this year — hence the decision. In the past budget, it would have been the expectation that we're going to earn approximately $400,000."
The costs for winding down SLGA liquor store operations — including severance packages — were expected to be around $15 million when the plan was first announced back in October, "but we would have to update those numbers and look at the stuff a little bit more closely now," Carr said last week.
Stadnichuk disputes that number.
"For her to come up with $15 million is such a rough estimate," he said.
"She pulled the number out of a hat. I don't know how she figured it out, but I don't think it's anywhere near the full amount."
'Profit-making, self-sufficient stores': SGEU
The first store to close will be the Dewdney location in Regina, which is shutting down on Jan. 21 — soon before the lease on the building runs out.
Stadnichuk said the government may be obligated pay rent on 14 other leased locations, even after the last store closes on March 31.
"Many stores had just recently finished agreements on their leases so the government will now have to buy those leases. There are some huge costs."
As well, he said the discounted liquor being sold at the stores after the shutdown announcement only meant more losses for the stores.
"They intentionally did this to show our stores are losing money. It's such a blatant attempt to show the public one side only."
Stadnichuck criticized the government's privatization decision as "a knee-jerk reaction" that imposes "the Alberta mentality on Saskatchewan" — and one he argues wasn't necessary.
"They had good, profit-making, self-sufficient stores, but they chose to close them and now are patting their backs with this severance package," he said.
"It wasn't a very good package. They shut down a Crown corporation that has been operating for close to 70 years and all they are doing is offering a little bit of money for it.
"That's not a way to treat the people of Saskatchewan."