FREDERICTON – Amid all the warnings of tough economic times and the need for government to rein-in spending, one group of New Brunswickers has taken centre stage in advance of tomorrow’s budget: the province’s 47,000 public servants.

The provincial government has already said it’s going to cut hundreds of jobs and freeze the salaries of the remaining employees for two years.

But is there room to cut from government’s payroll and, if so, where is it?

Bobby O’Keefe of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies said a look at the numbers suggests New Brunswick’s public service is top-heavy.

In 2008, civil servants, or public administration employees, accounted for roughly 14 per cent of the provincial public service.

The public service includes all government employees including nurses and teachers.

In Nova Scotia the rate was 9.5 per cent, Manitoba’s rate was roughly eight per cent and Saskatchewan was below eight per cent.

“It appears there is some room to move there,” O’Keefe said.

Figures from Statistics Canada suggest New Brunswick has 9,600 public administration workers within the public service or 12.85 per 1,000 people.

In comparison, Nova Scotia’s rate is 9.27, Saskatchewan’s rate is 9.65, Manitoba’s rate is 9.19 and Quebec’s rate is 9.10. Only Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland have higher rates, at 17.17 and 13.39 respectively.

When looking at the entire public service, New Brunswick has 89.95 employees per 1,000 people of the population. That figures places New Brunswick in the middle of the pack, said O’Keefe.

“New Brunswick isn’t as far ahead of the national average as they are in terms of public administration,” he said.

But Tom Mann, executive of the New Brunswick Union, said the provincial government has already trimmed the public service as low as it can go.

Unions have launched public campaigns over the past few weeks, warning government cuts could put New Brunswickers at risk.

“The government services are strapped already and any reduction in the personnel providing vital services will have an impact on New Brunswickers,” he said.

Premier Shawn Graham has said some of the job cuts will be achieved by not filling vacant positions. But Mann said some services are already under-staffed.

He also said he’s worried what impact the cuts and wage freeze will have on the province’s attempts to recruit employees.

“There’s many things that we take for guaranteed that we may not even be able to put a job title on or put a face on it,” he said.

Government jobs are coveted because of their generous salaries and benefits compared with many jobs with private companies. The gap between private and public wages is particularly high in provinces that receive equalization, said O’Keefe.

“I think New Brunswick is a bit on the high side of that,” he said. “So, in that respect, (the wage freeze) does end up saving some money.”