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Province tables legislation to cap public sector wages

Diana Pereira, 680News and CityNews

Last Updated Jun 5, 2019 at 6:31 pm EDT

The province of Ontario has tabled legislation to cap public sector wages at one per cent over the next three years.

Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy introduced the legislation titled Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

“When we took office almost a year ago it was clear the previous government spent recklessly and repeatedly made poor fiscal decisions,” Bethlenfalvy said during a news conference after tabling the legislation. “What we now know is that action must be taken and everyone must do their part.”

Bethlenfalvy said Ontario public sector compensation represents roughly half of all expenditures, totaling $72 billion annually, and in light of the province’s massive deficit actions had to be taken.

“At the end of the day this is a fair and time-limited approach that applies across the provincial public sector,” he added.

“I want to be very clear, introduction of this legislation does not impose a wage freeze, rollback or job cuts.”

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) President Harvey Bischof fumed that the government has “broken everything they’ve touched: education, health care, autism services, and now they’ve broken the whole process of good faith bargaining.”

President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Smokey Thomas was also quick to react to the development, saying Premier Doug Ford has declared “war” on unions.

“He declared war on us before, but now … he’s opened up another front,” he said.

Bethlenfalvy said the legislation doesn’t impact existing collective bargaining agreements, but language in the Bill seems to give the government increased powers to override them once they expire.

“We are not looking to dissolve collective agreements,” he stressed. “But when collective agreements expire, if this proposed legislation passes, then it will have to respect that proposed legislation.”

In a pre-budget speech in April, Bethlenfalvy hinted that public sector wages were on the government’s radar.

“When we talk about controlling spending or managing expenditures, we must realize that a central component to this conversation is public sector compensation,” he said at the time.

“Let me be clear, our public sector workers have earned their generous compensation. I am amazed every day by their hard work, dedication, and diligence. But we must be honest about what we can reasonably afford while ensuring the sustainability of government programs and services.”