05/11/2012 09:27 EDT | Updated 07/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia deputy premier not concerned by government workers unwilling to move

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's deputy premier downplayed suggestions on Friday that the bulk of civil servants targeted in a government decentralization initiative likely won't move from Halifax and three other communities.

Frank Corbett said he doesn't believe the government has a problem brewing with workers who don't want to move to keep their jobs.

Corbett said the government hoped that as many of the 93 employees who are included in a move of two departments and one program from Halifax, Kentville, New Glasgow and Amherst would go.

However, he said the government is prepared if that doesn't happen.

"What we'll do is we'll probably have to hire to fill them (jobs) or maybe other people within government will say I want to go here or there, so we'll hire from within," said Corbett.

The government announced last month that it would move 25 workers with the Justice Department's maintenance enforcement program to New Waterford.

Another 68 jobs with the Fisheries and Agriculture Departments were slated to be moved to Digby, Shelburne County and Truro.

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, estimates that up to 75 per cent of the affected employees have indicated that they don't want to move, including a majority in the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

She said that could have a significant long-term impact for the government and the fishing industry in particular if a high level of expertise is lost.

"You can't suck all that life out of a department and expect it to survive," said Jessome.

She said that many of the workers feel there's no rationale for the move, other than the government wants to put jobs into rural communities.

The province has not put a price tag on the overall cost of the moves, however, the union has said employees who won't transfer are eligible under their collective agreement for two opportunities of "reasonable employment" elsewhere in the government. Those who choose not to take the offers would be laid off with severance.

Liberal critic Michel Samson said the severance costs could end up being significant and he blamed the government for poor planning in simply announcing its intentions in this spring's throne speech.

"One would have expected that there would have been discussions with the employees affected and that government would have had a clear plan to make this a reality," said Samson.

Progressive Conservative Chris d'Entremont said the growing number of people who don't want to move simply adds to the questions surrounding a move that in general his party supports.

"From the standpoint of sharing jobs around the province I think it's a reasonable one (move), but as with anything that happens with this government the devil is in the details on how this is going to play out," he said.

Corbett, who is responsible for the province's Public Service Commission, said he didn't believe filling a large amount of vacancies would be a problem.

"People come and people go from government all the time, skilled and otherwise," said Corbett. "If vacancies occur and that's if, then we'll fill them as they come."

He said the government would not offer additional money to entice people to move, although the government's relocation policy says employees are eligible for up to $2,000 to cover documented miscellaneous expenses.

Those include the disconnecting of telephones, computers and other household equipment.

Corbett said the workers have until June 20 to decide whether they want to move.