Skip to content

Pre-budget submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs

Pre-budget submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs

We the North
We the North
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union represents over 130,000 workers in Ontario's direct and broader public service. OPSEU's members work in the Ontario Public Service; in Ontario's community colleges, universities and boards of education; in Ontario's liquor stores; in Ontario hospitals, ambulance services, community care and home care agencies, community health centres and public health units, community addiction services, long term care facilities, community mental health agencies, and laboratories and blood services; Children's Aid Societies, developmental services, child treatment centres, child and family services, childcare centres and other community agencies.

The membership of OPSEU is directly affected by decisions made in the provincial budget and government must step up to the plate and allocate greater resources in a number of sectors.  OPSEU also has grave concerns about failed privatization policies that the government continues to pursue.

Summary of Recommendations

  1. Restore long-term financial stability and safe levels of hospital service, beds and staffing.
  2. Stop the endless health care restructuring that only facilitates more cuts.
  3. Conduct health system planning to properly plan and provide funding based on population needs across all health sectors, rather than arbitrary budget choices.  
  4. Reject the fire-medic model, and focus on changes to improve Emergency Medical Services.
  5. Improve access to publicly owned and managed long-term care beds.
  6. End contracting-out and fund a fully public, non-profit home care system.
  7. Immediately address the workload issues facing workers at Children’s Aid Societies.
  8. Provide adequate funding to ensure compliance with Bill 148.
  9. Government should look for opportunities to initiate centralized bargaining.
  10. Impose a moratorium on privatization, and review all existing privatizations.
  11. Hire more workers and set new significantly lower caseload thresholds for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support workers.
  12. Establish immediate timelines to increase Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support rates to bring them up to the Low-Income Measure and extend core health benefits to all recipients of income support.
  13. Take the money proposed to be spent on a portable housing benefit and earmark it toward expanding the province’s affordable housing stock.
  14. Strengthen the Ontario Rental Fairness Act.
  15. Provide funding to build the infrastructure, housing and health care services needed to provide appropriate mental health care in Ontario’s correctional facilities.
  16. Provide funding to build the infrastructure and hire the correctional officers and other Ministry staff needed to offer meaningful alternatives to segregation, and appropriate housing for offenders inside institutions.
  17. Provide funding to increase the number of correctional officers, nurses and other Ministry staff in Ontario’s correctional institutions to ensure the safety of offenders and staff.
  18. Increase the number of Probation and Parole Officers to meet the standards set by the province for parole reviews and supervision after release.
  19. All incarcerated young people should be housed in facilities owned and run by the Ministry.
  20. As the government moves ahead on digital services, ensure technological advances are used as tools, rather than as a replacement for workers

Health Care

Public health care is not only part of the Canadian identity, it remains a top priority for voters. Medicare is based on the principle that as citizens, we ought to receive health care based on our need, not our ability to pay. It is our social pact to care for one another, and it is the mark of a compassionate, equitable and fair society; this is what makes us proud of our system.

For over two decades, our health care system has been under attack, as have public services in general. We have witnessed a surge in precarious work; with more part-time employment, less pay and poorer working conditions.

At the same time, public health care services are being cut, and privatized. While regular Ontarians continue to suffer, an elite few reap the spoils. Inequality is growing, as more services are downloaded and privatized, and patients are increasingly forced to pay for these services out-of-pocket – often when they are least able to pay.

This is of particular concern to OPSEU and its members. OPSEU members not only use the public services that are funded and delivered by the province; we also deliver the services and are the public face of the system.

Despite modest funding increases in last year’s budget, the reality is that health care funding is still lagging.

According to Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO), “If the [2017] level of health care quality and services are to be maintained, health expenditures will require 5.3 per cent annual increases from this year to 2020.”

The Conference Board of Canada and the parliamentary budget officer agree that a 5.2 per cent annual increase in health care funding is required to meet population growth, aging, inflation, and increased utilization. It is widely agreed that this is the actual rate of inflation on health care systems. 

In December 2016, during health accord talks with the federal government, Ontario proposed a 10-year federal funding plan that would have seen Ottawa’s health transfers to the provinces increase by 5.2 per cent a year. Premier Kathleen Wynne argued that a three per cent annual increase, “is not going to cut it.” That argument should also apply to the 2018-19 Ontario Budget.  

The government introduced a 3.1 per cent increase for overall health funding in the 2017-18 Budget, with a 2-3 per cent increase going to hospitals. This however was still well below what is needed. Ontario still funds health care at the lowest level of all provinces on a per capita basis. New funding is required to achieve greater capacity in our hospitals, long-term care homes and across our health system. There has been no provincial capacity planning since 2000. It is not surprising that there is such a disconnect between community need and the levels of service and staff being funded. The Ontario government must commit to health system planning to meet population need.

Hospitals

Little action appears to have been taken since the 2016 Auditor General’s report on Ontario’s large community hospitals, which described a state of severe overcrowding. Reports have continued to surface exposing overcrowding and the use of unconventional spaces being used to treat patients. Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), said that hospitals require significant investment in 2018 just to maintain access to existing levels of services. 

The OECD has reported that 85 per cent bed occupancy is broadly considered to be a safe occupancy level. According to the Auditor General’s 2016 report, during 2015, 60 per cent of all medical wards in Ontario’s large community hospitals had occupancy rates greater than 85 per cent. While recent horror stories on hospital overcrowding have been blamed on the seasonal flu, the OHA has reported that patient occupancy at approximately half of the province’s 143 hospital corporations exceeded 100 per cent this past summer. This is normally considered a slower time of year for the sector. Some hospitals reached occupancy levels of 140 per cent.  

The Ontario government has created a crisis through cuts, and privatization has been offered as the solution. Patients and their families are increasingly forced to pay out-of-pocket fees at private clinics, for home care services and for long-term care because they cannot access publicly funded care in a timely fashion. The province has downloaded this responsibility onto patients – often the elderly, who are sick, frail and dying.

In December 2017, omnibus Bill 160 – the Strengthening Quality and Accountability for Patients Act – was passed with sweeping legislative changes affecting hospitals, ambulance services, long-term care and retirement homes. Bill 160 affects more than 40 pieces of legislation, yet most of the provisions of the Bill underwent no public consultation. Bill 160, Schedule 9 repeals existing acts covering private hospitals and private clinics including x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT, fluoroscopy, nuclear and molecular imaging clinics. It enacts new legislation – the Oversight of Health Facilities and Devices Act – rolling all of these facilities into one Act, which now governs the licensing and oversight of almost all hospital services provided outside of the hospital setting.

While we are pleased with the government’s decision to bend to immense public pressure and amend the original language of the legislation to preserve the ban on private hospitals, OPSEU remains staunchly opposed to the rebranding of private clinics as “community health facilities.”

It is important to note that the private clinics that exist in Ontario have been plagued with serious quality and safety concerns. Academic research has shown that fragmenting community hospital services into private clinics has resulted in poorer quality, safety concerns, and the proliferation of illegal user fees being charged to patients. All of this has come at the expense of public hospitals and patients.

No public dollars should be spent lining the pockets of private clinic owners and profiteers.         

The problems our health system faces are further exacerbated by the latest wave of mega-mergers and service consolidations sweeping the province. There is a major cost associated with mergers, whose purpose is to consolidate services, place more power in fewer hands, and – ultimately – facilitate more cuts. Already overstretched hospitals are forced to pay for restructuring out of their own operating budgets. This comes at a heavy cost to patients and to our communities who had have close contact with their local hospitals and have lost that link.

The restructuring and resulting cuts have been particularly hard hitting in rural and northern communities where patients are forced to travel further for the care they need. Often in regions with particularly bad weather, traveling for much needed health care can be risky.

The evidence shows that restructuring has not resulted in cost savings. Ontario needs look no further than its own history. In the fall of 1995, the government announced large cuts to hospital funding and the creation of the Health Services Restructuring Commission (HRSC); budget cuts were to occur over a three year period with $365 million cut in 1996/97, $435 million in 1997/98, and $507 million in 1998/99.  The establishment of the HSRC was an effort to reduce costs further. After two years of cuts, the third year was cancelled because of the impact more cuts would have had in forcing reduced service volumes.  In total, from 1996-1998, the province cut $800 million from the health care budget. As it turns out, the restructuring of the health care system which was meant to help reduce costs actually ended up costing $880 million (double what was projected).  The provincial government spent more money on restructuring than was “saved” through cuts to needed services and staff.

Home care

Despite the rhetoric around “transition in our health care system,” home care funding per patient has actually decreased over the past decade. This is the result of so many people getting pushed out of our hospitals quicker and sicker and into home care. There have been more than 20,000 people on wait lists for long-term care home spaces for more than a decade. The funding for home and long-term care is not keeping pace with population need, and the entire system is backlogged as a result. OPSEU is calling for base funding increases that cover the true cost of providing home and community care.  

Ontario’s home care system is rife with privatization – the majority of provider agencies are private, for-profit entities competing for bids to provide services and seek profits. As a result of health system restructuring under Bill 41, the Local Health Integration Networks now have responsibility for the coordination, oversight and funding of home and community care services. Bill 41 completely removed the structural barriers preventing LHINs from assuming responsibility for the management and direct delivery of home and community care. In order to provide stable working conditions, wages and enforce industry standards, OPSEU is calling for the end of contracting-out and for the LHINs to act as the employer for home and community care workers.

Last year, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care announced the creation of a new crown agency for home care services called Self-Directed Personal Support Services Ontario (SDPSSO), to be launched in early 2018. OPSEU is opposed to the creation of the SDPSSO, which will add a new layer of bureaucracy but will employ only a select few. The creation of the SDPSSO does not address the fact that the vast majority of home care workers are, and will remain, employed by an array of for-profit and not-for-profit agencies, where they often earn less and face precarious employment. It does not end the practice of contracting-out, which is at the heart of the problem. There exists very little information about the agency’s governance and accountability structure. This is also cause for concern.

The ministry ought to explore its options for termination or non-renewal of all contracts with current provider agencies, and initiate the contracting-in of home and community care services. Patients must have enshrined rights to access the care they need along the entire continuum of care. We encourage the provincial government to initiate that transition.

Fire-medic

The OPSEU Ambulance Division has been vocal about the pitfalls of the fire-medic model and has repeatedly called for positive changes to our emergency medical services that will improve patient care. Yet, the provincial government has chosen to move forward – despite an utter lack of evidence and support – to implement the model. Bill 160 is being used to introduce exemptions into the Ambulance Act, for the purposes of pilot projects. This is particularly concerning because the standards established in the Ambulance Act exist to ensure the highest level of patient care and safety. Exemptions move away from established and expected standards and could place patient care and safety at risk.

OPSEU remains steadfast in its opposition to this plan. There is no medical evidence to support increased fire involvement under the proposed fire-medic model. There is no Ontario-relevant evidence to show there will be any improvement in patient outcomes. The cost of expanded fire response is an increased cost placed on already-overstretched municipalities, who bear 100 per cent of the cost of providing fire services. There is also the risk of greater costs being placed on patients.

Furthermore, expanded fire involvement does not fix any of the issues that exist with the current dispatch system, hospital offload delays, or rising community demands. The provincial government should focus its attention on improvements in these areas. The hospital bed crisis in this province has had a system-wide domino effect. Improved hospital funding, and hospital occupancy standards, would allow paramedics to move in and out of hospital much more quickly.

Mental health

Across Ontario, workers in the mental health sector are facing increasing exposure to violent assaults. Frontline workers and their unions continue to report that many employers are not doing enough to control workplace violence. Often they are failing to perform adequate risk assessments and failing to put procedures in place that prevent violence.

Workers have the right to be safe at work and to be free from assault while doing their jobs. No one should go to work afraid for their well-being or for their life. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care must mandate immediate measures to help ease the high risk faced by workers in mental health facilities, such as: increased staffing; better risk assessment procedures; improved communication systems; heightened security; and more training for staff. If staff are not safe, neither are patients. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Labour ought to implement the system-wide use of the Violence, Aggression and Response Behaviours Tools (VARB) for assessing security, conducting organizational risk assessments and assessing individual client behaviour.

Long-term care

Ontario’s long-term care sector is in crisis. Currently, Canada has the lowest care levels in long-term care among comparable economies, and Ontario has the lowest standards in all of Canada. As a result, residents are suffering and often confined for too long, making them more susceptible to premature incontinence and loss of mobility.

These issues are compounded by the proliferation of privately-operated homes – residents are increasingly forced to pay massive out-of-pocket costs or face long wait lists in accessing publicly funded long-term care. Our province faces a deepening crisis as more of these facilities come under the ownership of a small handful of major private-sector corporations who cut corners by cutting staff, rationing supplies, and reducing the quality of food.

Severe cuts to services, combined with an aging population, have meant that staff are increasingly overworked, rushed and expected to do more with less, while patient acuity and the complexity of care is growing. This is dangerous, both for residents and staff alike. Nearly 84 per cent of those entering long-term care homes today have high or very high needs as a result of cognitive or behavioural problems; the result has been a dramatic spike in violent incidents.

Access to publicly-funded, non-profit long-term care beds remains an ongoing concern – the wait list has exceeded 20,000 since the late 1990s. The Ontario government needs to invest in publicly owned and managed long-term care beds – that is, staffed beds – to a level that meets population need. There exists a dire need for additional resources, more staffing, and supports for residents, especially in achieving a four hour minimum care standard. Appropriate staff training is crucial in minimizing exposure to the growing risks in the sector. OPSEU is calling for appropriate funding for increased access to specialized long-term care homes (with appropriate staffing), more annualized random inspections for long-term care homes, and the development of a provincial strategy to improve access to specialized seniors’ mental health services, as per the recommendations of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario’s Geriatric and Long-Term Care Review Committee. All new capacity in the long-term care sector must be fully public.

Public plasma collection

In January 2017, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) requested funding from the provinces to support a dramatic increase in the amount of plasma it collects to make medications. CBS has projected the plan will cost $100 million over six years to build and staff new plasma collection facilities. According to CBS, Canada is on a trajectory toward dependency on world markets for 90 per cent of the plasma needed in the near future, much of which is collected through paying donors. While Canada is completely self-sufficient in all other areas of blood collection and supply, we are dependent only on fractionated plasma products, which are used to produce medications. Currently, CBS collects enough plasma for 17 per cent of Canada’s needed immune globulin; CBS is aiming to build the capacity to reach 50 per cent.

OPSEU welcomes the expansion of the public blood collection system, which will help stem the growth of private clinics. Our union is deeply concerned about the health and safety implications associated with for-profit collection. We are calling on the Ontario government to grant the funding request.

We Own It 

Too much money is being spent on the failed policy of privatization. Introducing the profit motive into public services simply drives costs up while leading to reduced quality and accountability. Over the past two decades privatization has meant taxpayers have spent tens of billions of dollars more than necessary for services that are inadequate.

Privatization is an experiment that has failed and failed badly. Here are a few examples of how it has foundered:

In health care, a significant and growing proportion of medical services are being privatized, from physiotherapy to medical lab testing. A review of privatized medical lab testing showed that a test can cost as much as 50 per cent more than one done in a public lab, increasing the price tag by as much as $200 million a year.

In long-term care, the province is underfunding municipalities to such a degree that they feel they have no choice but to allow the private sector to provide more and more long-term care. In Grey County, for example, a nearly new long-term care facility is being sold off to the private sector in a desperate bid to pay for the new long-term care beds the county needs.

In alcohol sales, the province continues to issue new licenses to corporations such as Loblaws, Sobeys, and Metro to sell beer and wine in their grocery stores. Evidence from other jurisdictions, such as Alberta and Washington State, show that privatized alcohol sales lead to higher prices and a reduction in government revenues.            

In highway maintenance, privatization has been an unmitigated disaster – it’s time to bring all this work back under public management and control. The sudden collapse recently of the multinational corporation Carillion, which had been plowing a significant  portion of our 400 and rural highways, is just the latest in a long string of privatization failures in the sector. The Auditor General has shown that privatized snowplowing is slower and of lower-quality, leading to higher costs and more dangerous highways. It’s time to return to public highway maintenance – it’s safer and more reliable.

Ontario Public Service

Privatization

The biggest problem facing the Ontario Public Service is the privatization and contracting out of its work. OPSEU opposes the privatization of public services provided by staff because keeping services public ensures a stable, skilled and directly accountable workforce that does the work well, and provides good jobs to our economy. Removing the profit motive from the provision of public services ultimately costs the public less, because privatizing services diverts money from front-line service provision to private profits.

Examples of ministries where privatization is either planned, or has already happened and needs to be reversed include (but are not limited to) the following:

The Treasury Board Secretariat is in the process of transferring email information storage from secure publicly run facilities at the Guelph Data Centre to cloud-based services provided by private companies, threatening Ontario Public Service jobs and potentially leaving confidential information vulnerable. The OPS has skilled Information Technology (IT) workers who can oversee the storage of OPS data on the government’s own servers. The cloud is simply someone else’s server – in this case, a private company’s server. Why pay a private company to store our data on their servers when we already have our own?

The Ontario Government has passed legislation in December allowing the Ministry of the Attorney General to download the prosecution of Part III Provincial Offences Act offences to municipalities, who currently prosecute less complex offences like parking tickets, bylaw offences, and minor infractions. Municipalities in turn often contract prosecution out to private law firms in smaller communities. Part III offences include some of the most serious non-criminal offences, including careless driving, hit-and-runs, sex offender registry violations, and serious motor vehicle collisions. These offences can carry jail sentences and they are matters of public safety and justice. It is important that these prosecutions be directly carried out by the Ministry of the Attorney General to ensure direct accountability for the provision of public safety and justice.

Most ServiceOntario offices have been contracted out to private providers, resulting in long line-ups, and reduced services. Compare that to the publicly-run offices that provide a full range of government services. Offering a full range of services in a well-staffed, well-resourced office is a responsible use of public funds.

Digital government

The Ontario Government has committed to moving toward a Digital Government. At OPSEU, we understand that online services are expanding everywhere, and this is the way of the future. But even as we provide digital access to the public services the OPS provides, we must ensure the public also has access to a person. We need to ensure accessibility to government services for all Ontarians, including those who can’t access or use online services. Technological advances are a good thing, but they are not a replacement for staff who can answer questions other than ones on an FAQ or deal with all of the individual and special cases that come up for Ontarians every day while accessing government services.  New technology hastily introduced can have disastrous consequences.  The SAMS software to manage social assistance caused tremendous stress for both recipients and staff who had to untangle the problems.  Another example is the problem plagued Phoenix pay system for federal public servants, which remains unresolved.  These examples underscore the need to end outsourcing and invest in improving internal systems.

OPSEU members need to keep providing the quality public services to Ontarians that we have been providing for decades. Front line staff are the engine that keep public service wheels turning. Technological advances should be tools, not replacements.

OPSEU has recently provided a response to Income Security: A Roadmap for Change, the report of the Income Security Reform Working Group, the First Nations Income Security Reform Working Group, and the Urban Indigenous Table on Income Security Reform. Our report, Steering our course on the road to change: OPSEU report on income security reform, is available on our website, but we would like to reiterate several of our recommendations that have budget implications here.

Income Security

Despite a number of changes at the provincial and federal level to address growing income inequality, after decades of cuts to the social safety net, poverty grows worse. OPSEU supports the progressive principles and vision outlined in the Roadmap, and we made several recommendations that we think will go even further to address the growing inequality in our province. The government should hire more workers and set new, significantly lower caseload thresholds for Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) workers to support the new service requirements to provide a person-centred, case-management approach focused on building positive relationships. Immediate timelines should be established to increase OW and ODSP rates to bring them up to the Low-Income Measure, and extend core health benefits to all recipients of income support. The money proposed by the Working Group that is spent on a portable housing benefit should be spent instead on expanding the province’s affordable housing stock, and strengthen the Ontario Rental Fairness Act, 2017.

Crisis in Corrections

OPSEU has been sounding the alarm for years now about the crisis in corrections. Reports released last year by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé and Independent Advisor on Corrections Reform Howard Sapers have confirmed what we have been saying all along:  Ontario’s correctional system is broken and needs to be fixed, and the government must work with and consult front-line staff in order to fix it.

With the expected changes to practices around segregation, providing appropriate mental health care, and other anticipated changes to the Correctional Services Act, additional infrastructure and appropriate Ministry staffing resources will be required to fully implement those changes. It is going to take a serious increase in funding throughout the system to fix correctional services in Ontario.

Additional funding is needed to build the infrastructure, housing and health care services in order to provide appropriate mental health care in Ontario’s correctional facilities. The province’s correctional institutions are not equipped to deal with the mental health issues and addictions experienced by half of the population of adult offenders. Institutions do not have the infrastructure, housing, or appropriate resources and Ministry staff to treat offenders with mental health issues and addictions, or to manage associated behaviour. In 2013, as a resolution to an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case brought forward by Christina Jahn, a former inmate living with mental illness, a number of public interest remedies were agreed to by the province to ensure that mentally ill inmates receive proper mental health screening, appropriate care, and are not placed in segregation outside of exceptional circumstances. Almost five years later, those remedies have not been fully implemented.

Significant funding is also required to build the infrastructure and to hire the correctional officers and other Ministry staff needed to provide meaningful alternatives to segregation, and appropriate housing for offenders inside institutions.  Overcrowding remains a problem in some institutions and one inmate per cell is a basic principle that should be followed both in terms of safety and human rights. Upon the release of damning reports by Sapers and Dubé in 2017 with regard to segregation in Ontario’s jails, the government has committed to limiting the time spent by offenders in segregation. But currently there is no real alternative to segregation. Lack of appropriate housing units for those offenders currently being placed in administrative, protective or disciplinary segregation, as well as inadequate staffing levels, makes segregation the only option to keep both offenders and correctional staff safe. It will take a great deal of additional infrastructure and staff to create the conditions necessary to reduce the use of segregation.

Understaffing is a serious issue inside Ontario’s correctional institutions. Not having enough correctional officers leads to more lockdowns, more assaults on staff, and more violence between offenders. It simply creates an unsafe workplace for staff and living space for offenders. Correctional institutions are also often short on nurses and health care staff, compromising health care delivery to offenders. Lack of appropriate levels of recreational staff and rehabilitation programming leads to unsafe and inhumane conditions.  The government must provide funding to increase the number of correctional officers, nurses and other Ministry staff in Ontario’s correctional institutions to ensure the safety of offenders and staff, the proper provision of health care, and humane conditions.

Probation and Parole Officers in Ontario have serious workload issues that make it impossible to meet the government’s standards for community supervision and parole reviews of incarcerated offenders. Offenders must receive a parole review if they are incarcerated longer than six months, but there aren’t enough Probation and Parole Officers to complete these reviews. In the community, Probation and Parole Officers are required to use a model of community supervision called STICS (Strategic Training Initiative in Community Supervision), which has created a huge increase to their workload. But there aren’t enough officers to carry out the work. As a result, as reported by the media last year, it is impossible to carry out home visits, curfew checks and other monitoring necessary to ensure public safety. There is also a need for an increase in the number of Probation and Parole Officers to meet the standards set by the province for parole reviews and supervision after release.

Privatization creates some of the biggest problems in the Ontario Public Service, and Corrections is no exception. All services provided inside Ontario’s correctional institutions should be directly operated by the government. Recreational services, social work, health care and all other services should be provided by public servants rather than contracted out. Keeping services in-house saves money (by eliminating profit-taking from public funds), ensures quality (by removing the profit motive to cut corners), and ensures direct accountability of staff providing services to the ministry funding those services. All services provided inside correctional institutions should be directly operated and funded by the government in order to ensure quality services, provide direct accountability, and ensure the proper spending of public funds.

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services governs all services provided to incarcerated youth. Some facilities are directly operated and run by the Ministry, and others are in contracted out transfer payment facilities. It is OPSEU’s position that all incarcerated young people should be in directly-operated facilities – that is, facilities that are directly operated, staffed and run by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Social Services

Children’s and social services generally have consistently been underfunded. Significant investments are needed in developmental services, children’s aid societies and children’s treatment.

In 2016-17, overall provincial spending on children’s and social services was a mere 12.3 per cent of the overall budget for program expenditures. Across all three sectors the government made modest investments since 2014, largely in response to third party reports exposing system failures and chronic waitlists for services.

Most developmental service workers are in part-time positions and face wage disparities, a lack of pensions and there are serious pay equity concerns.

Publicly run developmental services agencies with the experience and expertise continue to be short changed while $677-million is being spent on the Passport program that can lead to less predictable outcomes.

Workers with the province’s Children’s Aid Societies face daunting workloads and constant health and safety concerns.

The pressure on the workforce has made it increasingly difficult for child welfare workers to meet mandated provincial standards.

The government must also fund the implementation of the Child Protection Information Network and restore an emphasis on prevention services through a funding model that enables workers to address the actual needs of children and families in the system. This would require hiring more workers.

The government must turn its attention to a recent dramatic reduction of children’s mental health beds. There is also the reality of 18 month waits for some of the more than 12,000 children and youth in Ontario who are currently waiting for children’s mental health support. Government funding increases for child and youth mental health centres have fallen well behind inflation.

In order to provide greater stability and continuity in the sector, mental health professionals should be paid at comparable wage rates as their counterparts in the health and education sectors.

The nominal two per cent increase to rates under the Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program ODSP) announced in the 2017 budget perpetuate appalling poverty for nearly two million individuals, families and children.

In 2016, the Government of Ontario established three working groups to help guide its thinking around tackling poverty: the Income Security Reform Working Group, the First Nations Income Security Reform Working Group, and the Urban Indigenous Table on Income Security Reform. The Ministry of Community and Social Services released its report in 2017, Income Security: a Roadmap for Change.

The report of the Working Groups is unprecedented in the recognition of the failure of the current system to address poverty, and in its call for a complete overhaul of the system in its proposed 10-year plan.  On the whole OPSEU supports many of the recommendations in the report and proposes that the timelines to significantly raise rates be expedited.

More specifically, OPSEU recommends that the province adopt a “standard flat rate” for OW and ODSP programs, and significantly raise rates through an expedited time line to bring them up to the Low-Income Measure (LIM).

Colleges

OPSEU represents 10,000 support staff and 12,000 faculty in Ontario’s 24 public colleges. Our colleges play a crucial role in supporting economic growth and educating students for the jobs of tomorrow. 500,000 students in the province are enrolled in a public college program. Years of government underfunding have created a situation where Ontario ranks tenth out of ten provinces in per-student funding. 

In 2015-16, grants from government accounted for less than half of the colleges’ revenue. Tuition fees contributed 20 per cent of revenue and the balance came from classroom and ancillary fees paid by students. At the time of their founding, a little over 50 years ago, approximately 75 per cent of the colleges’ operating funds came from government.

The underfunding by government has pushed colleges into questionable ventures with private colleges, corporations, overseas campuses, and contracting-out of services. At the root of the problem is what is sometimes called the “commodification of post-secondary education” or pressure from government for the colleges to run like a business.

Underfunding has also resulted in the colleges’ cheap labour strategy of relying heavily on part-time support staff and contract faculty. The majority of this precarious workforce is non-union but this situation could change soon.

Historic organizing drives for support staff and contract faculty were held in June 2016, and October 2017, respectively.

The largest union organizing drive in Canadian history has resulted in roughly 20,000 college part-time support staff voting to join OPSEU. An historic vote count that capped the union’s 14-year struggle on behalf of precarious workers who have little or no job security, confirmed that part-time support staff have voted overwhelmingly to join OPSEU. The union has long represented full-time staff at the colleges, but it was illegal for part-time employees to organize. Only after a concerted campaign by OPSEU, beginning in 2004, did the provincial government amend the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) in 2008 to grant them the right to unionize.

Sadly, the employer’s legal manoeuvres continue to hold up the counting of ballots cast in the representation vote of part-time contract faculty. Fairness for contract faculty was a major issue in the recent college faculty strike with the union’s call for better jobs receiving strong public support. The union calls on Deb Matthews, the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, to issue a binding directive to all 24 colleges under section 4 of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act (OCAAT) to drop their legal challenge and allow the ballots to be counted.

The next step will be to ensure the colleges live up to their legal obligations under Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act and provide equal pay for equal work. The colleges must put a plan in place to implement equal pay for part-time support staff and contract faculty. The government must support this plan by providing colleges with the necessary funding to implement equal pay.

The government must also be prepared to support and fund the recommendations that will come out of a new multi-stakeholder government-facilitated task force: Ontario’s Public Colleges: the Next 50 years. This task force will have representation from support staff and faculty, among other stakeholders. It will submit preliminary recommendations in late spring to the government on appropriate staffing models, including, but not limited to faculty complement, and the issue of precarious work, college funding, student success, collegial governance and other issues critical to the success of the college system.

Pay Equity

The gender pay gap remains a significant issue affecting all women in the Ontario.  Women on average earn 31.5 per cent less per year than men and are more likely to be in precarious employment than their male counterparts.

For many public sector organizations, which have predominantly female workforces, pay equity is not possible without employing the “proxy” method, which allows an organization to use comparisons with other organizations if no male-dominated job classifications exist within their organization.

Unfortunately, as part of the austerity agenda, the current government continues to not provide funding to its transfer payment agencies to cover the agencies legal pay equity obligations.

This is unacceptable.

If the government is serious about eliminating the pay gap it must provide full pay equity funding to employers in the proxy sector. As noted in our submission to the Gender Wage Gap Strategy Steering Committee from January 2016, pay equity is a human rights obligation and human rights are supposed to be guaranteed by the government.

Bill 148

The improvements to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA) contained in Bill 148 represent a significant step forward for workers’ rights in this province. As a leader in the fight for fairness in the workplace, OPSEU welcomes many of the enhancements contained in Bill 148, including the increase to the minimum wage, changes to make unionization easier for some workers and the requirement for employers to provide “equal pay for equal work.”

However, it is critical that the government provide public sector employers with sufficient funding to ensure compliance with Bill 148. If it is the government’s intent to improve employment standards in Ontario, the cost of employer compliance should not be borne by workers.

OPSEU remains disappointed with the first contract mediation-arbitration process introduced in Bill 148. It’s OPSEU’s position that access to first contract arbitration should be automatic. We recommend that the process be amended to guarantee access if one or both parties apply for arbitration. In our view, mandatory or automatic access to first contract arbitration would minimize the threat of labour disruptions and generate cost savings, which could be reallocated to improve service delivery.

Moreover, we recommend that the LRA be amended to make sections 43 and 43.1 applicable to all legislation governing collective bargaining in Ontario. In OPSEU’s view, all first collective agreement negotiations should have access to first contract arbitration regardless of which piece of legislation governs the collective bargaining process.

We note that section 5(1) of the Crown Employees Collective Bargaining Act (CECBA) provides for a modified version of first contract arbitration as available under section 43 of the Labour Relations Act. In contrast, the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) does not contain a first contract arbitration provision similar to CECBA. OPSEU is concerned that newly certified bargaining units covered under the CCBA will not have access to first contract arbitration.

Central Bargaining Structures 

Currently, there are no provisions in the Labour Relations Act to facilitate broader-based bargaining structures and/or sectoral or “central” bargaining. A broader-based bargaining approach is necessary in Ontario, particularly where small employers abound, fragmented sectors exist and precarious work is the norm.

Central bargaining is beneficial for both employers and workers as it facilitates focused discussions, establishes clear industry standards, minimizes costly labour disruptions, and generates significant cost savings through the centralization of resources.

OPSEU would like to see more central bargaining.

However, in the current transfer payment environment, the government funds agencies on an annual basis. In order for centralized/sectoral bargaining to work in an environment where participants come together voluntarily, the government must participate as the funding agent to ensure stable, longer term funding.

In conclusion 

OPSEU believes that with the economy and the employment picture improving now is the time to make up the years of underfunding of our health and social services.  For too many years the government has been seduced by various privatization schemes that may seem like good optics in some political quarters, but have proven to be a mirage in terms of their objective worth.  Strong and accountable publicly funded services are what have made Ontario one of the best places in the world in which to live and this tried and true approach is the only way to ensure that Ontarians can live in health, prosperity and safety.

Related

Press Release:  OPSEU’s Thomas to budget committee: ‘Fix the social deficit’

Read the 2018 Pre-Budget remarks by OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas