So much for Ontario’s wage freeze

In Ontario a wage freeze doesn’t actually mean a freeze on wages

By Candice Malcolm –

Wynn & Horwath

Wynn & Horwath

After six painful weeks of negotiations between Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, the budget was just finally passed in mid-June. And yet, a major component of the budget has already been ignored and forgotten.

In the budget, Ontarians were promised a public sector wage freeze to help curb government spending. We were told that government employee compensation accounts for 50% of the Ontario’s program spending, and therefore all government employees had to “work together” to control spending. To quote the budget, “all aspects of compensation plans are frozen, and base salaries cannot be increased.”

Seems pretty clear, but the budget went on to emphasize that “going forward, compensation costs must be addressed within Ontario’s existing fiscal framework, which includes no funding for incremental compensation increases for new collective bargaining.”

In Ontario, however, a wage freeze doesn’t actually mean a freeze on wages.

Just two weeks after the budget was tabled, the unions working at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario threatened strike action unless their demands were met. The strike was only averted by an 11th-hour deal with the government. The deal? As we later learned, government negotiators were urged by the Premier’s office to back down from the public sector wage freeze, and agreed to give workers a “signing bonus.”

7,000 unionized LCBO workers received an $800 signing bonus to keep them at bay until the wage freeze ends, at which time they will receive the 2% wage increases they demanded.

So much for the wage freeze!

The LCBO is not alone. Monkey see, monkey do. Another unionized government agency followed suit with strike action. The unions working at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) also threatened strike action at the OLG Slots at Woodbine unless their demands were met.

And those demands were also met, but instead of a wage increase, the government just handed out “lump sum” payments to the workers. Under the new agreement, union members received a $600 signing cheque and will receive another $600 lump-sum payment on April 1, 2014, followed by a 1.95% wage increase as of April 1, 2015.

And it doesn’t end there.

The Wynne government has agreed to give the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario a 2% pay raise this year. Premier Wynne defends this breach of the wage freeze by saying the teachers deserved the raise.

Signing bonuses, lump sum payouts and flat-out wage hikes. Life is good for Ontario’s government sector. Even with Premier Wynne’s “wage freeze.”

First, the government eliminated the word “tax” from the public discourse, replacing it with the downright Orwellian term, “revenue tools.” Now, they want to tell us a “wage freeze” includes wage hikes for unions.

This government has picked a war with both the taxpayer and the dictionary!

We’ve seen this before. Ontario’s 2012 “austerity budget” imposed a “wage freeze” on 1.2 million government workers. Of course, then-Premier Dalton McGuinty gave teachers the salary increases they demanded, but it was at least offset by a reduction in sick days.

This time, there are no concessions. Premier Kathleen Wynne has given into the demands of every union that threaten to hold the public hostage. And she does so without so much as a mention to the supposed wage freeze!

Get ready for a continuation of this domino effect with even more unions knocking on the doors of Queen’s Park demanding their slice of Kathleen Wynne’s “wage-freeze” pie.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) is a non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste and accountable government. Malcolm is the Ontario director of Calgary-based CTF.