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Don’t neglect human services, OPSEU warns

Podium with mic

The province’s proposal to put billions of dollars into infrastructure renewal should not preclude investment in critical services such as job training and health care, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said today.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas today renewed his call for an economic summit to unite the three pillars of the Ontario economy – business, labour and government – to come together as a team to help the ailing economy,

While Thomas welcomed the provincial government’s intention to rebuild roads, transit and bridges, but he said the so-called “soft” services for families cannot be ignored.

“Don’t cut critical community services in order to fund other jobs,” Thomas said, noting that more than 20 per cent of the workforce in Ontario is public sector. “The best chance of achieving a balanced approach is by drafting a strategy with all key players in the economy.”

Public agencies involved in retraining the unemployed people are seeing their caseloads increase at a dramatic rate. Community colleges are turning away students as enrollment increases, and hospitals are laying off staff. There are already signs of division as cashed-strapped social services agencies and educational institutions vie for government funding in the face of huge demand for their services.

“There are good people on the ground who want to help, but they need the resources,” Thomas said. “Let’s rebuild the social infrastructure of the economy and get the province on the road to recovery.”

OPSEU has proposed a five-point “good jobs” strategy to weather the storm, enhancing public services and guaranteeing retraining for a new economy. The economic development portfolios of provincial government ministries should be enhanced to fill a leadership role, Thomas said.

“The current economic crisis demands that all key players in the provincial economy sit down together to put forward a strategy we can all agree on,” Thomas said. “Working together as a team is better than each of us working separately.”