Austerity plan fails key tests, OPSEU tells Finance Minister

TORONTO, July 20 /CNW/ - Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's plan to cut the province's budget deficit fails three key tests, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union says.

"The members of our union will support a deficit-reduction strategy that is fair to people, protects the public services Ontarians need, and strengthens our economy," OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said. "The government's plan fails all three of these tests."

Thomas and other labour leaders met with Duncan today in Toronto to discuss deficit reduction plans, but the Minister announced nothing that was not already contained in the March 25 Ontario Budget. He hinted at further meetings with unions later this summer.

The government's austerity plan, which is intended to cut public sector salaries by the rate of inflation, is not fair to public employees who did nothing to create the economic crisis that caused the deficit, Thomas said.

"Under Dwight Duncan's proposal, a part-time worker making $20,000 a year in a group home will sacrifice an extra $400 a year to reduce the deficit, while an RBC investment banker making $12 million a year won't pay a penny. This is clearly unfair and the Minister needs to address it."

The Minister has no plan to protect public services from deficit-cutting, Thomas added, noting that hundreds of layoffs are planned in the Ontario Public Service alone and hundreds more are happening in hospitals. Vital social services have been in crisis for more than a decade, he added.

"In this province we have children's aid societies facing bankruptcy and children with mental health issues who grow up before they can get help," Thomas said. "As a society we are failing our citizens and our children. We have to stop punishing innocent victims, deficit or no deficit."

Cutting public sector wages will harm the economic recovery at a critical time, Thomas said.

"While a recovery is under way, and will ultimately go a long way towards paying down the deficit automatically, Ontario is not out of the woods yet," he said. "Many hard-hit households and communities depend on public sector wages to survive. Cutting back on those wages can only slow down the recovery and extend the time it takes to pay down the deficit."

OPSEU is in favour of dialogue with the government, Thomas said, but any dialogue must respect the rules of free collective bargaining.

"As far as we're concerned, the only place for this dialogue is at the bargaining table or, where that fails, at arbitration," he said. "That's where we'll be focusing our energies."

SOURCE OPSEU

For further information: For further information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, (613) 329-1931 (cell)


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