TORONTO – Ontario’s cash-strapped Liberals are handing out wage increases to government workers despite their promise to freeze pay, the Progressive Conservatives charged Wednesday.
Since 2010 — when the Liberals first announced a wage freeze to balance the budget — about eight out of 10 collective agreements in the broader public sector contain compensation increases, said critic Vic Fedeli.
For instance, workers at Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, got wage hikes of 6.3 per cent over three years, according to the party’s analysis of Ministry of Labour information.
“The Liberal wage freeze is a myth,” Fedeli said.
“In fact, if you look closely in the budget this past year, the finance minister never used the phrase ‘wage freeze’ even one time. There is no wage freeze in Ontario.”
His party would legislate an across-the-board wage freeze to help eliminate Ontario’s $11-billion deficit, Fedeli said.
The Tories looked at hospitals, nursing homes and community housing agencies, as well as bigger Crown corporations like Ontario Power Generation among the broader public sector contracts.
The Liberals have also come under fire for bonuses awarded to civil servants.
Last year, documents obtained by The Canadian Press revealed that about 98 per cent of eligible managers in the Ontario Public Service received bonuses in 2011, costing the provincial treasury $35.6 million.
Former premier Dalton McGuinty promised to review the performance pay system last year in reaction to the report. He said at the time that if everyone is getting bonuses, it’s not pay for performance, but pay.
Warren “Smokey” Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the Tories are torquing the numbers.
“Figures lie and liars figure,” he said.
Many of the contracts are multi-year deals that included the two-year wage freeze the Liberals sought, Thomas said.
Other agreements were negotiated before the wage freeze came in, he added. Once they expire, the employer will likely demand two years of zeroes.
OPSEU bargains over 700 agreements, about 300 of which are up next year, he said.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, but his spokeswoman said the average annual wage change for the broader public service is 0.2 per cent.
The minister has been “very clear that there’s no room in the fiscal plan for incremental increases in compensation,” Susie Heath said in an email.
Some broader public service entities have found room for compensation changes within their own budgets, she added.
“This does not change our government’s commitment to eliminating the deficit by controlling costs in compensation, nor will it affect dividends to the province from agencies like the LCBO and the OLG,” she said.