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Wage Freezes, Not with the Workers in Mind

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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The Ontario government has now said they are prepared to rip up collective agreements for two years and impose wage freezes on all public employees. However, it is important to see that this is not just a wage freeze but it is a direct attack on organized labour.

McGuinty’s government has refused to acknowledge its contribution to the massive debt the province has fallen into. While implementing this wage “freeze” the government has also begun phasing in a number of corporate tax cuts that will cost 1.5 billion dollars in the first two years and 2.4 billion dollars by the fourth year of implementation.

Corporations will not turn around and invest their money to create jobs, as McGuinty will have you believe. They will use this money to pad their enormous bank accounts. By now, it is a well-known fact that Ontario has the lowest corporate tax rate in the entire industrialized world and yet job creation has still not become a priority for these corporations!

If anyone can afford to pay off this debt, it is the companies that have raked in record profits in the past year, not the workers that are asking for their hard-earned annual increase.

McGuinty’s proposal to save the economy by freezing the wages of public sector workers in Ontario is irresponsible at best. The fact is that the wage freeze will only “save” Ontario a grand total of 770 million dollars in the first year. Is it really the fault of our teachers, doctors, or maintenance staff that our province is in debt? No!

Moreover, something you will never hear McGuinty tell the public is that what he is calling for is not a wage “freeze”. It is a wage reduction. Due to inflation, the value of workers’ wages will decrease year to year and gains won at bargaining tables will be clawed back.

McGuinty’s Liberals claim that the proposed freeze will save Ontario! They insist that public employees’ wages have gotten out of hand and that they must be matched to the private sector.  They even went so far as to call their proposal the “Protecting Public Services Act.” Apart from trying to pit worker against worker, this line of thinking is intended to make us forget that we are being asked to support and embark on a ‘race to the bottom’.

Furthermore, the claim that public sector wages have gotten out of hand is simply not true. Paying workers adequate wages is not an outrageous concept but even still, the Ontario government has failed to do so for years. In fact, on average, public workers earned the same in 1992 as they did in 2008. This is because of the massive clawbacks of the 1990s.

The worst part of this proposed act is that it interferes with the democratic right of workers to negotiate and settle on an agreement. Anyone that has taken part in bargaining a collective agreement knows that it is a lengthy process full of discussion. It takes months of sitting with management across the table, and regularly checking in with your membership, to reach an agreement with your employer regarding everything from parental leave to sick days to, you got it, wage increases. It is not within the legal right of the Ontario government to simply step in and legislate the agreement for us. Union rights are democratic rights, and the McGuinty Liberals seem intent on rolling back the clock on 60 years of labour legislation.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of handing out corporate tax cuts, our government chose to spend our money on social services? Increasing corporate welfare by handing out corporate tax cuts on one end and then claiming workers are short-changing you on the other is not only obscene, but it is a display of the unfair nature of the Ontario Liberal government.

One thing I am excited about is that unions all over Ontario are rising up. We are going to be seeing a shift in rhetoric not only at bargaining tables, but also on the streets this coming year. We are fed up and will not take “0” for an answer.

 

Denise Martins

Vice President of Local 3913 Canadian Union of Public Employees (Representing Teaching Assistants and Sessional Lecturers)

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