This morning at Queen’s Park, OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick addressed the members of the Ontario legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs as part of the 2023/24 Pre-Budget Consultations.
Hornick presented OPSEU/SEFPO’s pre-budget submission and spoke about the cost of living crisis while urging the government to address the major staffing and retention crisis in our public services, drop its appeal of the Bill 124 court decision, improve working conditions, and end privatization.
Watch Hornick’s speech to the committee here:
OPSEU/SEFPO 2023/24 Pre-Budget Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
The people of Ontario are currently suffering a cost of living crisis where essential items like gas, groceries and housing are becoming increasingly unaffordable.
The cuts made by provincial governments in recent years to public services have only compounded this issue, leaving people struggling to access the supports they need.
Enough is enough.
As frontline workers, the 180,000 members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) have the unique insight and experience necessary to identify ways to improve public services while addressing the cost of living crisis and increasing the quality of life for all Ontarians.
OPSEU/SEFPO members come from all social, economic, and ethnic groups, live in communities across the province and work in over 20 different sectors. They keep Ontario running.
This budget is an opportunity to reverse the years of funding cuts and understaffing that have plagued our public services. We can make real progress by bridging the wage gap, addressing understaffing, improving working conditions and reforming the taxation system to make Ontario a place where everyone has access to the support and resources they need to thrive.
To do that, it is crucial that we prioritize four major themes and outline key sectoral recommendations for each:
- Good Jobs = Better Services
- Cost of LivingCrisis
- End the Privatization Agenda
- Climate Action
Our members understand the ripple effects of disinvestment and austerity, and conversely, the value of investing in our public services to ensure they meet the needs of Ontarians.
It is important to ensure that public services are strong and reliable, and that we take a comprehensive approach in rebuilding and strengthening them.
The members of OPSEU/SEFPO understand the importance of investing in public services to ensure they meet the needs of Ontarians and are ready to contribute to a plan to rebuild and strengthen these services. This pre-budget submission reflects their input and proposes practical and achievable solutions to address the cost of living crisis, promote good jobs and services, end the privatization agenda, and take action on climate change.
1. Good Jobs = Better Services
Public services are facing a major staffing and retention crisis that needs to be addressed in this budget. OPSEU/SEFPO members have been clear: they are facing burnout and mental health injury due to extreme short-staffing across the public sector. Many are leaving beloved jobs in public service because their working conditions have become untenable. The reality of Ontario’s staffing crisis cannot be overstated; neither can the harm done to our invaluable public services as a result.
Furthermore, many experienced workers are retiring, and this trend exacerbates the challenge of recruiting and retaining workers. The loss of institutional knowledge and expertise through these retirements requires adequate resources for hiring and training.
Addressing these issues require the provision of full-time employment opportunities in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), Broader Public Sector (BPS) and Ontario’s public colleges. It requires employment opportunities with comprehensive benefits and pensions, to ensure a stable and committed workforce, thereby enhancing the capacity of public services and reducing wait times for the vital public services people rely on. It also means putting an end to the public sector hiring freezes that are harming our communities.
The increasing reliance on part-time, precarious employment, also known as “the gigification of work,” is contributing to an unstable workforce, further exacerbating the staffing shortage.
The current government’s implementation of Bill 124 (Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019), which capped compensation for public sector workers, was short-sighted and unconstitutional, and ultimately costly due to retention and training issues. There are many positions within the public sector where the classification and pay rate has become inappropriate for the position.
The time and resources required to train workers for these positions often takes months, or even a year, and many leave for comparable jobs that pay more, creating retention issues. Additionally, the Bill 124 caps on compensation are a barrier to redressing these issues through bargaining.
It is unconscionable to ask public sector workers to accept three years of pay cuts, especially when inflation is hovering around six to eight per cent per year. The government must immediately withdraw its appeal of Bill 124, approve pay increases for positions whose pay rates have fallen far below their comparators, and take the necessary steps to rectify the harm inflicted by Bill 124.
Workplace health and safety
Ontario’s staffing crisis is putting workers at risk. No one should go to work afraid of getting sick or seriously injured. Yet workplaces with insufficient staffing levels and overworked, undervalued, and underpaid workers, has resulted in increasing incidents of mental health injury and exposure to workplace violence. This crisis has taken a toll on the mental health of employees across sectors.
To mitigate these dangers, it is imperative that the government takes action to ensure that all work environments are safe, and that employees are equipped with the resources and equipment required to carry out their duties safely — regardless of whether they are working from the workplace or at home. The government must ensure that workers have access to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage, so that they are protected in case of a workplace injury, including when working from home.
Inclusion and Diversity
OPSEU/SEFPO is dedicated to creating workplaces that are inclusive, diverse, equitable, anti-racist, accessible, and respectful, free from discrimination and harassment.
We recommend the implementation of concrete actions and funding to address the root causes of racism, discrimination, and harassment in the public service.
Recommendations to support Good Jobs and Better Services:
- The government must abandon its appeal of the Bill 124 court decision.
- Immediately address the retention and recruitment crisis across the public service by implementing a workforce strategy to increase wages, create more permanent, full-time positions, provide pensions, protect workers’ health and safety, and expand WSIB coverage.
- Lift the hiring freeze.
- Build capacity to deliver the public services that Ontarians rely on by creating more permanent, full-time job opportunities, rather than hiring temporary staff, which often costs more.
- Stabilize the workforce by ensuring fair compensation across the OPS and addressing the growing pay gap between OPS jobs and comparable jobs in other levels of government or the private sector. This includes approving special cases and exemptions filed for pay increases in positions where pay rates have fallen far below their comparators.
- Stop relying on fixed-term contracts and provide fair compensation to address retention and recruitment issues.
- Provide funding and work collaboratively to uphold the Ontario Pay Equity Act. This means reviewing all OPS Unified jobs under a pay equity lens to ensure female-predominant jobs are paid equally.
Paramedics and Ambulance Communications Officers:
- Support better mental health diagnosis and treatment services for paramedics and Ambulance Communications Officers (ACOs).
- Create a regulatory framework for the Direct Funding program (Passport) to ensure:
- A minimum base rate that reflects a living wage;
- A central registry of vetted and trained workers; and
- That families or individuals comply with tax requirements and the Employment Standards Act (ESA).
- Implement WSIB coverage across all agencies.
Boards of Education:
- Recruit and retain education worker by increasing wages and benefits for newly hired education workers, as well as current casuals.
Children’s Aid Society (CAS):
- Reduce the systemic workload burden and improve retention in the field by:
- Changing the funding formula to include an increase to base funding for CAS;
- Expanding the delivery of prevention and early intervention programs; and
- Investing in more frontline positions.
- Provide the funds to embed equity, anti-oppression, anti-Black racism, and Reconciliation programming into all areas of service delivery in the child welfare system.
- Ensure that all Ontarians have access to justice services by restoring and increasing the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) budget. It is crucial that we expand the services LAO provides to poor and vulnerable populations.
- Fund municipalities to eliminate homelessness, fund shelters, supportive housing, and street to homes programs. The housing crisis has hit people living with physical disabilities or mental illnesses, and a disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people the hardest.
- Create a child care workforce strategy that improves wages and retention.
- Create an integrated system with harmonized standards within the youth justice system – including wages, benefits, pension and health and safety – so that the transfer-payment facilities are similar to those directly-operated by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.
- Cover essential workers who test positive for COVID-19 by amending the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to include COVID-19 as an occupational hazard.
- Legislate mandatory WSIB Coverage for Workers in the Residential Care Facilities and Group Homes Act, 2020, by including residential care, correctional facilities, and group homes in Schedule 1 of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Long-Term Care Facilities:
- Provide more care in long-term care homes by:
- Creating more permanent, full-time jobs;
- Mandating and enforcing patient-to-staff ratios, thus keeping an appropriate level of staff on duty to provide care; and
- Ensuring a minimum of 4.1 hours of direct care per day.
- Increase funding to compensate for tuition freezes, which have resulted in lost jobs. The current Funding Formula shortfall hurts smaller institutions the most.
- Increase the global funding for public hospitals by 13.6 per cent, per year to maintain current service levels, meet the rising demand for patient care, and address the ongoing staffing crisis in a meaningful way.
- Address the ongoing retention and recruitment crisis by funding, promoting, and enhancing educational streams so that more qualified staff can be trained and hired in all professions.
- Improve retention and prevent turnover by funding an increase in compensation and working conditions. The significant wage gap between child and youth mental health professionals working in community settings, and those practicing in education and health sectors is destabilizing community services. In 2021 Community Mental Health Ontario identified serious workforce challenges amid growing demand and need for services.
Community Health Care Professionals:
- Address recruitment and retention issues by increasing wages for community health professionals to align with compensation in hospitals and long-term-care homes. Staffing shortages and wait lists are at a crisis point in home care, placing an even greater strain on the healthcare system.
- In 2020 nurses in the community made $11 an hour less than what they could earn in hospitals. Even with the wage increase that Personal Support Workers (PSWs) received during the pandemic, those who work in home care receive 21 per cent less than those who work in hospitals, and 17 per cent less than those in long-term-care facilities (Ontario Community Support Association [OCSA]).
- Learn important lessons about public health from the pandemic, by increasing funding for preventative measures, infection controls and access to community healthcare.
- Address significant wage disparities in relation to college faculty’s traditional comparator groups: university professors and high school teachers.
- Invest in Ontario’s public colleges and universities by increasing provincial funding per Full-Time Equivalent student to the national average.
- Address excessive faculty workloads, which are exacerbated by online teaching, increased electronic communication, and more complex student needs.
- Abandon performance-based funding.
Mental Health and Addictions:
- Lead in recognizing and addressing anti-Black racism and the systemic racism faced by Indigenous peoples and other racialized groups in the provision of mental health services.
- Expand community-based mental health counseling, addictions, and early intervention services.
- Increase 24-hour integrated mobile crisis teams across all communities and provide stable, and permanent funding.
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation
- Address severe and persistent workload issues through hiring, and provide wages that are competitive within the industry.
2. Cost of Living Crisis
A persistent gap between wage growth and inflation has led to a historic cost of living crisis that has left Ontarians struggling to pay for basic necessities like groceries, housing, and transportation.
In 2022, wage growth consistently lagged behind inflation, with consumer prices in Ontario rising more than twice as fast as wages. This has led to a significant increase in the cost of living, with the average living wage in the province now standing at $19.72 per hour. Additionally, at least 863,000 Ontarians in 571,000 households live in deep poverty while receiving social assistance.
To address these issues, workers are demanding solutions that include raising the minimum wage to $20 per hour, reversing the shortsighted appeal of Bill 124, ending poverty wages, doubling the rates of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW), restoring and expanding decent work laws, including paid sick days and equal pay for equal work, and making it easier for workers to join a union.
Affordable and accessible childcare, free and accessible transit, and treating public sector workers with dignity and respect are also among the demands.
Additionally, we need to end the price gouging by grocery stores and oil and gas corporations: impose price caps on groceries, fuel, and basic goods, pass a Right to Food law that guarantees universal free school meals, and tax the profits of food and oil giants.
More households in Ontario are in core housing need, with fewer receiving housing support from provincial programs. In addition, high housing costs, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, have made it difficult for many people to afford to rent or buy a home. To address these issues, the government must pass real rent control and a Tenants’ Bill of Rights, launch a province-wide public housing program that builds decent homes in every community, cap mortgage payments as inflation rates rise, and stop evictions and foreclosures.
Finally, we need to make the banks and corporations pay their fair share in addressing the cost of living crisis. This includes taxing the record profits of the banks and corporations, making the top one per cent pay their fair share and restoring tax rates for the highest earners, ending tax breaks and tax loopholes for banks and corporations, and imposing fines on banks and corporations that fail to pay their taxes.
Recommendations to address the Cost of Living Crisis:
- Expand not-for-profit centres for more families to access $10-a-day child care by funding and supplementing the federal childcare investment. The FAO estimates that by 2026, Ontario families of approximately 602,257 children under age six will require access to $10-a-day child care with only 375,111 child care spaces planned.
Long-Term Care Facilities:
- Repeal Bill 7, More Beds Better Care Act (2022) which requires hospitals to charge elderly patients $400 if they refuse to go to a long-term care home or other service against their will.
- Double the rates for all Ontario Works recipients.
- Invest in students by offering free or reduced tuition, while providing additional funding to post-secondary educational institutions.
Mental Health and Addictions:
- Eliminate wait times for mental health and addiction treatment, and increase capacity in publicly-funded and publicly-run treatment centres in the community.
- Stabilize permanent funding through the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for mobile crisis response teams, expand the teams across the province, and shift away from time-limited grants.
3. Ending Privatization
Public services and privatization simply don’t mix. That’s because public services are based on the core principles of equality, accessibility, transparency, and fairness. These principles stand in stark contrast to the goals of privatization – namely the ability to reward shareholders with profits by selling services only to those who can pay. Not only are quality and accessibility harmed, privatization costs more – especially in terms of the greater cost of borrowing and corporate profits.
The formula for privatizing public services isn’t new: first, starve public services of funding and worsen working conditions by restraining wages, and driving workers out. This leads to a deterioration in the quality of services, which in turn leads to frustration among the public. Then, offer privatization as the only possible solution and allow for-profit companies to take over the delivery of these services.
Privatized public services are often more expensive and less reliable than those provided by public sector workers. Yet, the Ontario government continues on its course to sell off the public services that generations have fought to build – including our beloved healthcare system.
We are alarmed that Ontario’s public healthcare system is at risk because of the government’s scheme to support American-style, private, for-profit surgical and diagnostic clinics throughout the province.
Squeezing the public system with cuts and underfunding to benefit private clinics damages the ability of Ontario’s public hospitals to provide high-quality care, and makes it even more challenging to retain frontline staff. It’s a dangerous plan that will undermine safe staffing levels and universal access to care.
Healthcare funding in Ontario is the lowest of all provinces in Canada, despite Ontario being one of the most populous and wealthiest provinces.
People must come before profits.
A two-tier health care system, where money buys access, is unacceptable. This is particularly evident in the long-term care sector, where outcomes for individuals are worse when provided by for-profit chains.
Recommendations to end privatization:
Ontario Public Service (OPS) Unified and Correctional Bargaining Unit:
- Stop privatizing and sending out OPS bargaining work to outside agencies.
- Bring previously privatized public services back in-house, including Service Ontario offices, and the GPS monitoring of offenders in the community.
Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and Child Treatment:
- Establish a fully public and accountable housing system for youth in care. The mostly private residential group care has failed youth in care in Ontario. Eliminate for-profit care in group homes (Outside Paid Resources (OPRs)). OPRs provide substandard housing and services to vulnerable youth.
- Eliminate guideline changes that remove profit caps and proposals that would allow operators more discretion over their expenses. Diverting public funding to fund profit-making in child care will subsidize the expansion of for-profit child care in Ontario. Invest in developing a fully public system of child care provision.
Long-Term Care Facilities:
- Remove profit from long-term care and build more non-profit long-term care facilities.
- Do not renew operating licenses of for-profit providers – especially those with the worst health and safety track records during the pandemic, when thousands of residents lost their lives unnecessarily.
- Stop privatizing and outsourcing the delivery of healthcare and hospital services. Privatized services cost more and ultimately result in inequitable access to care. Private clinics won’t solve Ontario’s staffing crisis, they will worsen it by pulling staff out of the public healthcare system and making wait times longer.
- Invest in public hospitals to sufficiently address the long wait times for accessing procedures and diagnostic results, build more publicly funded, publicly run hospitals, tackle the staffing crisis, and address looming and upcoming capacity demands, particularly for an ageing population.
Liquor Board Employees (LBED):
- Keep the LCBO public. The revenues from traditional LCBO stores provide billions of dollars a year to support our public services and build our province. Privatizing alcohol distribution and sales hurts public coffers and the public services Ontarians rely on.
Community Health Care Professionals:
- Stop the endless and costly healthcare restructuring. Restructuring for the Ontario Health Teams threatens to increase private interests in health care planning as core Health Teams are infiltrated by private, for-profit companies – like Long-Term Care facilities – who would participate in regional decision-making.
- Bring the delivery of home care in-house and stop contracting out to temp agencies and for-profit providers.
CBS and Diagnostics:
- Honour the recommendations made by the Krever Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, following the tainted blood scandal and stop Canadian Blood Services’ plan to privatize the collection of plasma in Ontario.
- Improve funding for public colleges, not private career colleges.
- Cancel the harmful public-private partnerships between private career colleges and publicly funded Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs) that lead to the exploitation of international students, subpar education, and working conditions.
4. Climate Crisis
The impending impacts of the climate crisis pose a significant challenge to people and communities across Ontario, particularly those from marginalized communities.
Severe weather events have already caused widespread damage to communities in Ontario and future projections suggest even greater climate impacts and catastrophic consequences, including heat waves, forest fires, flooding, and disruptions to agriculture and food insecurity.
Forest fires in Northern Ontario are expected to become more frequent and intense due to a changing climate, with higher temperatures and drier conditions contributing to an increased risk of fire.
To mitigate these adverse effects, it is imperative to adopt a multi-faceted approach, including reducing emissions, promoting the growth of the green economy, addressing systemic inequalities, and increasing the accountability for our climate goals. Moreover, it is necessary to strengthen the public service to effectively implement environmental protections, especially for communities disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and climate change, such as racialized groups and Indigenous populations.
The government must also reverse its unpopular scheme to sell off parts of the province’s vital, protected Greenbelt to Progressive Conservative party insiders and wealthy developers. This attack on green spaces and agricultural land will produce lavish McMansions — not the affordable housing the people in this province desperately need.
It is imperative to acknowledge the existence of environmental racism, which exacerbates the impact of climate change on racialized communities, including Indigenous and Black populations. These communities also have less political power to challenge the lack of protections.
This budget presents a unique opportunity to promote an equitable and sustainable future through a Just Transition that integrates an environmental justice framework. Such an approach prioritizes the preservation of our ecosystems and the well-being of our communities, while ensuring the continued provision of essential public services.
Recommendations to address the climate crisis:
- Reverse the sell-off of Ontario’s protected Greenbelt.
- Increase supports and funding to mitigate the effects of forest fires and other climate-related crises, by ensuring frontline staff have the resources and tools to do their job effectively.
Successive governments over the 20th century built and supported the social safety net and public services, yet in recent decades, there has been a significant departure from this tradition, with a focus on privatizing services and cutting supports.
Years of neglect and underfunding have led to greater inequity, squeezed vital public services, and made life unaffordable for many.
Now, instead of reinvesting wealth and resources back into our communities, they are being channeled into the pockets of the most wealthy and well-connected.
This is a betrayal of the spirit of public services — and it’s time to say “enough is enough.”
It’s time to address the major staffing and retention crisis with better wages, good jobs with pensions and benefits, and by enhancing the capacity of public services.
It’s time to end this affordability crisis and recommit to the original purpose and intent of public services, which were designed to serve as a “great equalizer.”
Our pre-budget submission prioritizes four major themes: good jobs and better services, addressing the cost of living crisis, ending the privatization agenda, and taking climate action. These proposals are practical and achievable solutions to address these challenges.
We believe that public services and the social safety net must be preserved and strengthened for future generations, as they are fundamental for promoting fairness and equity, and are essential for a functioning democracy.
OPSEU/SEFPO is ready to work with the government to make Ontario the best place to live and work.
Let’s work together to build a strong and equitable society where everyone has access to the support and resources they need to prosper and thrive.