Let’s find alternatives to layoffs and program cuts

By MPP Toby Barrett
On May 16th, I introduced my Private Members Bill titled: An Act to address Ontario’s debt through alternatives to public sector layoffs and government program cuts while reducing the fiscal pressure on the people of Ontario who are having trouble paying their bills. This legislation offers options for tackling runaway spending that has us staring down the barrel of a $411.4 billion debt.

Servicing this debt impairs the ability of Ontario to function and has led to levels of taxation that restrict the ability of businesses to compete, and of individuals to survive financially.
There are over one million public sector employees in Ontario – 70 per cent unionized compared to 15 per cent in the private sector. Labour costs account for over half of Ontario government spending. This spending sees public sector workers receiving higher compensation – wages, benefits, pensions… – than their private sector counterparts. The total amount paid to the public sector has jumped by 46 per cent since 2003.
My bill aims to take legislative steps address this trend, recognizing the Drummond report advice, “one recommendation that crosses all sectors is the need for prolonged moderation of growth in public-sector total compensation”
While the McGuinty team continues to dodge and weave through credit downgrades, flagging job numbers, and mounting debt, the truth is that unless the province gets its house in order, there will be no alternative but continued cuts to government programs and continued layoffs resulting in a lower level of service for all of us.
To limit the need for such extreme and harsh solutions, I feel the Government of Ontario needs to act immediately to limit compensation paid to employees in the public sector. At the same time, as spelled out in my bill, government must continue to recognize its legal duty to consult fully with those employees and their bargaining agents, and to negotiate with them constructively and in good faith.
My bill would amend the Crown Employees Collective Bargaining Act, 1993 to:

1. indicate government’s responsibility and objectives to fully engage, consult and conduct genuine and constructive negotiations with public sector workers on legislative changes to collective bargaining and compensation
2. link the total compensation package to the rate of Ontario’s real GDP economic growth per capita
3. allow for public sector furlough i.e. days off without pay. It’s important to note that between 2007 and 2009, over half the states have imposed mandatory furlough for their public sector employees
4. allow change in public sector pensions to defined contribution from defined benefit. Here as well, at least forty states have enacted significant changes to their public sector pension plans
5. limit length of public sector collective agreements to one year, after which wages are frozen until a new contract is settled, until budget is balanced
6. introduce a comprehensive and transparent benchmarking system for compensation, which would include a costing of the full compensation package, including benefits, pensions and moving through seniority grids
7. mandate stricter criteria for compensation awards in researching private vs. public comparables – achieved through a provincial wage board.
I look forward to providing more details as we approach debate of my bill June 7th.