Ontario Government’s Wage Restraint Consultation

An important message to CUPE members regarding the
Ontario government’s wage restraint consultation

A few days ago the President of the Treasury Board, Peter Bethlenfalvy, announced that Ontario’s PC government was turning its sights on lowering the wages and cutting the benefits of Ontario’s 1 million public sector workers.

In launching what it calls Public Sector Compensation Consultations, the government has made clear its intended outcome.

From the 2019 Ontario budget:

“…consultations will directly inform the government’s next steps…and potential measures could include:

•    Voluntary agreement to wage outcomes lower than the current trend;
•    Trade-offs that will lead to reductions in compensation costs; and
•    Consideration of legal measures.”

CUPE’s response is clear. Ontario public sector workers are not overpaid. Their hard work is a critical component of what makes Ontario a good place to live and our job as union leaders is to push back hard against this politically motivated attack against our members’ wages.

CUPE members need to know: the facts are on our side and expose the wrongheadedness of the government plan. The Ministry of Labour figures show that Ontario’s public sector wages have not kept pace with inflation over the last ten years. The same is true of private sector workers.  Its clear that no front-line worker’s wages are “the problem” in Ontario.

Bargaining for our members happens at tables with our locals, bargaining councils and employers, not in consultations with government. CUPE will strongly defend our right to free and fair collective bargaining.

We must defend our members. Despite our firm stand that any limitations on free collective bargaining would be unconstitutional, we believe that it would be important to participate so that we can continue to fight to protect the rights of our members.

Therefore, CUPE leaders and senior staff have decided to participate in the proposed consultations, beginning April 23rd, and use the opportunity to make clear to this government that workers are not the cause of Ontario’s debt and deficit.

In a special letter sent to the Deputy Minister of Treasury Board on April 12th to confirm CUPE’s intention to participate, we are articulated the following principles upon which CUPE’s participation is based:

1. The province of Ontario does not have a spending problem, but a revenue problem. Ontario generates less revenue per person than any other province in Canada. Profitable corporations and the wealthiest Ontarians have the lowest tax rates in generations, lower than other jurisdictions across the country, and have not been asked to contribute their fair share.

2. Ontario spends the least amount per person on public services compared to all other provinces across the country. We invest less in our schools, hospitals, social services, post-secondary education, and all other public services, per capita compared to other jurisdictions in Canada.

3. The population of Ontario continues to grow, and it continues to age. Both realities drive demand for increased public services.

4. Public sector workers’ compensation growth is not the cause of Ontario’s deficit and debt problems. The Ministry of Labour’s own data demonstrates public sector wages have not kept pace with inflation over the last decade, meaning front line workers are falling further behind, year over year, in real earnings.

5. The right to free and fair collective bargaining is sacrosanct. CUPE’s participation in these discussions does not, in any way, compromise our right to defend this principle, nor should our participation be construed as an agreement to enter into a bargaining process outside the normal, local and central, collective bargaining structures.

Our commitment to all CUPE members is this: CUPE will go into these consultations with our eyes wide open. We will, in the strongest terms, defend our members, our collective agreements, and our right to free and fair collective bargaining. We will demand this government drop its plan to try to punish public sector workers by curbing their wages and benefits. We will demonstrate other means, such as asking the most profitable corporations and wealthy individuals to pay their fair share in taxes, to get the deficit under reasonable control and we will not, repeat not, take any steps that would compromise CUPE members’ wages and benefits, or our right to free collective bargaining.

We will keep CUPE locals and members informed and up to date as to how these consultations proceed and advise as to what other measures, if any, may become necessary to stop this wrong-headed attack on workers and their families.

In Solidarity,

Fred Hahn                                                  Joe Matasic
President                                                    Ontario Regional Director