Public Values

Austerity measures unfairly target low income earners

Low-paid Ontario support workers take cuts while corporations get billions in tax cuts.

Low-paid workers take cuts while corporations get billions in tax cuts - Patty Rout.by Patty Rout, First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU

Absent in all the noise accompanying this week's "consultation" with labour leaders over the government's plan to freeze wages, was any acknowledgement by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan that the real victims of his austerity campaign will be low income earners in the broader public sector.

These are the workers who care for the elderly, treat the mentally ill, operate programs for vulnerable children and young people, and who find precarious employment on the fringes of our health care system.

I'm speaking, for example, of the part-time developmental service worker who might earn an average annual income of $20,000, or the youth justice employee who will take home an income in the range of $30,000 — all the while witnessing bankruptcies and program cuts that have become commonplace in child protection agencies.

After the dust settles and the math is calculated, these workers will actually take a pay cut, after inflation, that amounts to hundreds of dollars each year.

Meanwhile, the corporate titans on Bay Street whose greed and incompetence contributed in part to the international financial meltdown in the first place and which, in turn, led governments everywhere into deficit financing, have been handed a "get out of jail free" card and will bear no personal income loss.

But wait, it gets even better for them. The businesses they operate have been awarded corporate tax cuts amounting to billions of dollars annually which the finance minister says he won't rescind. That's tax revenue that will be lost to pay for those bankrupt Children's Aid Society agencies and programs for children's mental health treatment.

Where's the fairness in all of this? Where's the justice?

The fact is, there is no fairness and there is no justice. Just the cold hand of the finance minister putting the squeeze on low income public sector workers, who can least afford to have their wages cut, in a fragile economic recovery in which they are often the sole household bread winners.

Lost, too, in the plan to make these workers bear the brunt of deficit reduction is the fact that, overwhelmingly, women make up the majority of workers in social service and health care occupations. So again, we witness the pitiful outcome of a government directive that unfairly targets women and their families.

In its misguided and unjust austerity scheme, Dwight Duncan has identified those who stand in the way of its implementation. At the moment his target is thousands of our members in the broader public sector, the majority of them women. We cannot abandon them.

OPSEU is currently at the bargaining table, or entering into more than 150 sets of contract negotiations, virtually all of them in the broader public sector. Now, more than ever, we must stand together in a demonstration of solidarity and be prepared to fight back. The struggle won't come easily but I believe, in the end, we can arrive at a fair and just outcome on behalf of our most vulnerable members.

In Solidarity

Patty Rout First Vice-President / Treasurer Ontario Public Service Employees Union

Posted: August 03, 2010

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