A provincial bill that would allow school boards to publicize teachers’ names along with their salaries and benefits is misguided, discriminatory and unnecessary, says Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar.
Bill 5, the Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act, would empower school boards to decide what, if any, salary and benefit information to make public, regardless of any privacy laws or policies currently in place.
Currently, the government discloses the names and salaries of government employees earning more than $104,754 a year. The bill aims to broaden the scope of this “sunshine list” to include other boards, agencies and commissions that receive public funding. Under the proposed bill, many of these bodies would be required to post the total compensation of employees or board members who earn more than $125,000 in annual salary and benefits.
However, the proposed law would enable municipalities and school boards to decide for themselves what, if any, information they want to release and decide their own thresholds. The information could appear on a public website that’s accessible to anyone, be published in a newspaper, posted in schools, distributed to parents or provided in any other form — at the discretion of the school board.
“This government has committed to increasing transparency and we are keeping our promise,” said Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley. “This legislation will allow Alberta taxpayers to see where their dollars are spent.”
Ramsankar says the proposed law could expose front-line workers like teachers, aides, secretaries and custodians.
“The government says it wants to put the focus on higher-income earners’ and senior managers’ salaries, yet this proposed law will actually leave front-line workers vulnerable to having their private information made public,” Ramsankar said.
“While enabling the publication of teacher names and salaries, the law would still allow school boards, as well as private school and charter authorities, to avoid disclosing whatever information they want hidden from public view.”
Ramsankar said he’s calling for basic fairness by asking the government to amend the bill to ensure that teacher salary disclosure is subject to the same $125,000 minimum threshold that’s prescribed for doctors, nurses, social workers and all other public employees affected by the bill. He points out that teacher collective agreements are already public and so provide all the transparency and accountability necessary.
He also encouraged teachers to speak out.
“Teachers should expect better from this government and I encourage them to contact their MLA or Minister Ganley immediately to express their concerns.”
The opposition Wildrose said it will support the legislation if the government agrees to an amendment to ensure that teachers are not subject to disclosure thresholds lower than those that will apply to other public bodies. Education critic Mark Smith said his party plans to introduce the amendment as soon as it can.
“A sunshine list should be looking at excessive remuneration,” he said. “Teachers should be focusing on ensuring students reach their full potential, not on worrying about whether their salaries are being disclosed.”
Alberta’s privacy commissioner, Jill Clayton, said that bodies looking to disclose personal information should complete privacy and access impact assessments.
“It’s important to give careful thought to the process that needs to be put in place to publicly disclose personal information,” she said. ❚