Unions critical of federal budget

Born-again Keynesians fail to impress their employees
By Gordon Sova
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 05/01/2009

The union movement in Canada, which was unanimous in its condemnation of the Conservative government over its November economic statement, is no more supportive of the budget. In addition to a general attack on the principles behind Prime Minister Harper’s stimulus package, there is also fear of how some of the plans will impact public servants.

Measures to “ensure sustainable federal public service wage rates” were announced in November. They were not front and centre in January, but they have not gone away either. Both the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) have recently negotiated tentative agreements, and PSAC has ratified their most numerically significant one. The unions are concerned that the government may now reduce the wage increases they agreed to.

Significantly, PIPSC has been holding off on ratification of some of its agreements. It claims it has less to lose because it was not offered the financial incentives PSAC was. Also, it has chosen a more litigious approach, charging the government with bargaining in bad faith and is prepared to “explore all legal avenues available to us to restore the integrity of the collective bargaining process.”

A second issue for the federal unions is the continuing threat of “measured action to ensure the effectiveness and reduce the cost of government operations.” Both PSAC and PIPSC see this as meaning layoffs. The government is also proposing to sell off government assets, bringing with it the fear of privatization of public sector jobs.

Finally, the economic statement promised to “modernize the pay equity regime.” This, according to PSAC, means that women will no longer have the right to pursue their claims in court and be limited to a tribunal format.

Another area in which the various public sector unions see a threat is the way in which infrastructure development money will be spent. Public-private partnerships, or P3s, were dear to Finance Minister Flaherty when he was in the Ontario government. That commitment continues, as does a preference for municipal and provincial help in financing projects. The Canadian Union of Public Employees and the National Union of Public and General Employees join their colleagues in urging direct federal investment as a faster and more effective way to get projects going.

Liberal leader Ignatieff has stepped back from the brink by offering to support the Budget with the caveat that amendments would be made to force the government to show the progress it had made in stimulating the economy: effectively three confidence votes in a year.

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