Ontario's offer to public workers would kill job security: Union boss

OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.



TORONTO — An offer tabled by the Ontario government for its 38,000 public workers is a recipe for a “knock down, drag out” fight, union head Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas says.

Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said the government’s opening offer in collective bargaining talks this past week would kill job security protections for union members and pave the way for massive privatization of public services.

“They’re putting all the ingredients on the table to have a big knock down, drag out fight. And we’re up to that challenge. Don’t want it but if they bring it on, if they start it, we’ll finish it. Guaranteed,”

Thomas said Friday. “We don’t back down.”

The Ontario government’s collective agreement with its unionized employees expires at the end of 2012.

Last week, the government gave notice that it would like to begin bargaining.

John Friesen, a spokesman for Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar, said it is too soon in the negotiating process to offer specifics but the government has made it clear in its 2012 budget that it will not be offering compensation increases.

“The deficit is the single biggest challenge to the province and it must be dealt with so that we can continue to provide important public services such as health care and education,” Friesen said in an e-mail. “We look forward to working with OPSEU to reach a negotiated collective agreement.”

The government’s budget also leaves the door open for the privatization of ServiceOntario.

According to the OPSEU website, the government’s first offer included a two-year pay freeze, a reduction in sick benefits, increased use of temporary employees and consultants, the “gutting” of job security language, the elimination of an early retirement option for laid off workers and the end of severance pay for new employees who quit or retire or those who move into similar positions.

“It does not seem reasonable to provide termination payments when there is continuity of employment, as was the case in the transfer of employees to the Canada Revenue Agency,” a copy of the government offer posted online by OPSEU says.

More than 1,250 tax collectors who moved from the provincial payroll to the federal payroll with the implementation of the HST in 2010 collected up to $45,000 in severance each even though they didn’t lose their jobs.

Thomas said the union is most worried about job security for its members, and he argued the government’s deal would allow wholesale privatization of public services without workers being allowed to follow the work.

The job security provisions in the existing contract is a “strike” issue for OPSEU, he said.

“Part of what they tabled I think is designed to scare our members. And it has. It should scare them,” Thomas said. “If they don’t really want that, that’s shameful on their part. Why would you subject 38,000 people to an emotional roller coaster that may not be necessary?”

So far this year, the Dalton McGuinty government has secured deals with the province’s doctors, OPS managers and Catholic school teachers but is struggling to reach agreements with public school teachers.

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