We own SaskTel, so why is government trying so hard to undermine it?

Main Image
A woman wearing a blue shirt stands in the centre of an office, with people in the background.
By Gavin McGarrigle, Published in The Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Photo by Michael Bell /Regina Leader-Post
An official with the union representing most SaskTel employees says the Saskatchewan Party government is crippling the Crown corporation.
There’s a well-worn analogy for SaskTel and other Saskatchewan Crown corporations: the goose that lays golden eggs.

As Saskatchewan taxpayers, we own SaskTel. It serves all of us by providing an excellent public service and drags down prices by competing with telecommunications giants like Rogers, Bell, and Telus.

The cherry on top is that, as owners, we get a dividend back from the profits of SaskTel. In turn, dividends are used to improve rural phone and Internet services and towards funding schools, hospitals, and other core services.

Owning your own telecommunications company is a win-win-win: it increases competition and lowers prices, provides good jobs, and is a source of public revenue.

SaskTel is the goose that lays golden eggs. But the Saskatchewan Party’s stance on our public telco demands another analogy: death by a thousand cuts.

There was a time when the Saskatchewan Party was keen to sell our golden goose. But the backlash across the political spectrum has taken that idea off the table, at least for now.

Instead of selling off our prized Crown corporation, the government has a Plan B: privatize SaskTel piecemeal in ways that are mostly invisible to voters and customers alike.

As the union representing SaskTel workers, we want to tell you what privatization by stealth looks like.

In the past you could always rely on calling SaskTel employees for anything you needed, but now that work is increasingly done by offshore call centres or out-of-province contractors (almost 700 in outside installation alone).

If your technician has an Alberta licence plate and drives a generic white van — they’re not a SaskTel employee.

Contracting out of various sorts has shrunk the SaskTel in-house workforce by at least 30 per cent (1,000 good jobs) since 2009.

Many jobs previously done by qualified technicians are now done by unskilled contractors who get just three hours of training.

Worse, SaskTel workers are often called on to fix contractors’ mistakes, clogging up the system and costing SaskTel hundreds or even thousands of staffing hours.

So-called “SaskTel wireless dealers?” Not staffed by SaskTel employees (and it shows).

The only people who benefit from privatization are CEOs getting rich on private contracts. You might know them better in their role as Saskatchewan Party donors.

Of course, the people who are hurt by privatization are the workers losing their jobs, the customers getting inferior service, and those who rely on hospitals and schools partially funded by Crown revenue. In other words, most people.

After enough piecemeal privatization, SaskTel is no longer a publicly owned Crown company. It becomes a shell corporation made up of dozens of contractors, many based out of province or even overseas. It ceases to become a serious competitor to Rogers, Bell or Telus.

Threats to SaskTel aren’t new. They are ever present with a Saskatchewan Party government.

We’ve fought privatization and won many times before. The fierce public resistance to the ridiculous scheme to charge us for SaskTel email addresses is the most recent example of what we can do when we fight back.

Public pressure is the only reason Saskatchewan Crowns are around today. It’s time again to resist privatization and stand up for our Crowns.

Gavin McGarrigle is the western regional director for Unifor, the union that represents most of the SaskTel employees in the province.


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Ian Boyko

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