04/30/2012 11:37 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia government starts moving civil servants to locations outside Halifax

HALIFAX - The government of Nova Scotia is moving 93 civil service jobs from Halifax to rural regions by the end of the year, a move the premier said Monday was intended in part to give an economic lift to areas of the province that sorely need it.

Jobs in the Fisheries, Justice and Agriculture Departments will be relocated to the areas where the people needing them live, Darrell Dexter said.

Dexter said the decentralization will be "cost neutral over time," though he wasn't more precise.

"Of course a lot of this depends upfront on variables — what the cost of (office) space happens to be, where we can find it and those sorts of things," he said.

The headquarters for the Fisheries and Agriculture Departments will move to the Digby and Truro areas, respectively, resulting in a transfer of 56 jobs. Another 12 positions with the Fisheries Department's aquaculture division will go to Shelburne County.

The Justice Department will move 25 jobs to New Waterford. Those workers administer the province's maintenance enforcement program, which collects court-ordered spousal and child support payments.

Dexter said the moves will provide employment to some areas that are economically depressed, pointing to New Waterford as one example.

"New Waterford was a place that has recently undergone a lot of job loss, so there's actually office space that is available there," he said. "So it made sense to use that particular community."

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said about 75 of her members would be affected by the changes, as the remaining positions are management jobs not represented by her union.

Jessome said while some workers may decide to move, most likely won't because of where they would have to move.

"These jobs are being moved into areas that people would probably would not choose to move to ... unless they were moving home," Jessome said.

She said employees who won't move are eligible under their collective agreement for two opportunities of "reasonable employment" elsewhere in the government. If they choose not to take the offers they would be laid off with severance.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said while the announcements were welcome news to areas that would get the jobs, they "paled in comparison" to the number of jobs already lost in rural parts of the province.

Baillie said more government positions should be spread across the province, although he couldn't say what that number should be.

But Liberal economic development critic Geoff MacLellan said moving government jobs from Halifax was no substitute for creating a better economy in rural areas.

"We spend $187 million a year on economic development and that's what's got to prop these communities up," MacLellan said. "Not decentralization of less than 100 jobs."

Dexter said the government didn't have immediate plans for further moves, but he also didn't rule out the possibility of more transfers in future years.

The government first announced its intention to move civil service jobs out of Halifax in its throne speech in March.