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Stop wage cuts, boost spending power, create jobs, Thomas tells budget committee

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
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TORONTO – It’s time for the provincial government to stop cutting jobs and wages for public employees and focus on boosting spending power to create jobs, the head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union says.

“Austerity is not working,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas said this morning in his pre-budget remarks to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. “It’s time to stop the wage cuts. It’s time to start putting money back into working households. It’s time to boost consumer demand to create more of the good jobs with good pay that this province needs.”

About 20 per cent of jobs in Ontario are public sector jobs, Thomas noted, but 32 per cent of employed Ontarians live in households that rely on at least one public sector salary, according to data from Statistics Canada.

“When you cut wages and benefits for OPSEU members, or other public employees, you are cutting into the spending power of nearly one-third of the working people in this province,” Thomas told the committee. “You’re cutting family spending power. And that is gutting our ability to create good jobs with good pay in this province.”

Thomas noted that the Centre for Spatial Economics, a mainstream forecasting firm, has estimated that the Liberal government’s austerity program will reduce the number of jobs in Ontario by 105,000 in 2015 and cut GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points.

“Slower growth, of course, means lower tax revenues,” Thomas said. “It is no wonder that, after five years of wage freezes and benefit cuts across the provincial public sector, the Ontario deficit is actually going up.”

Thomas also lambasted Liberal MPPs on the committee over the latest report from the provincial auditor general. Bonnie Lysyk reported in December that the government had spent $8 billion too much by tapping private companies to manage and finance on major infrastructure projects.

“In terms of lost money, it’s at least 100 times worse than what happened at Ornge. At the very least it warrants a special investigation by the Public Accounts Committee,” Thomas told MPPs.

A transcript of Thomas’s remarks is available at here.