Ontario to cap public-sector wages

Almost one million public-sector workers in Ontario will have their salaries capped in a get-tough move by the province.

The Premier has already warned public-sector unions to back off on demands for wage increases if the province is to escape unscathed by an economic downturn.

The recent warnings come on the heels of last year’s endorsement by the province of a two-per-cent wage hike for public- sector workers.

“Last year we felt two per cent (was fair) and it was a stronger year last year than this year, that’s all I can tell you right now,” said Premier Mike Harris.

Harris’ new finance minister, Jim Flaherty, sent a similar message in his first major speech since being appointed to the portfolio. Flaherty also takes on the position of deputy premier. In his speech, Flaherty said he is unwilling to accept any wage augmentation in the broader public sector, which includes municipal governments, hospitals, schools, universities and other agencies.

“There seems to be an expectation that when the government is the boss...money is no object. This is the not the case,” said Flaherty.

In his address, the minister warns that a contract signed by the Toronto District School Board that saw an increase of eight per cent for teachers over two years, won’t be setting a standard for future negotiations in the public sector.

“It will not set the bar. Eight per cent is totally unrealistic. If we were to raise salaries by eight per cent across the broader public sector it would cost you $2.2 billion over two years.”

Flaherty’s message came just weeks after Harris made his warning to unions to keep a leash on increased wages. In his address, the premier reproached nurses, teachers and other “special interests” for unrealistic wage expectations in a time of economic slowdown.

Public-sector unions aren’t buying into the government’s approach.

“If our wages are supposed to be tied to the overall economic situation, we’re owed tens of millions of dollars in back pay from the raises that never materialized during the boom,” said John Weatherup, president of the Canadian Union of Workers Local 4400.

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