Among the over 45,000 Ontario government employees that went on strike Wednesday were government IT workers concerned about increased privatization of government IT services.
Talks broke down between the Ontario provincial government and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), effectively forcing a strike that is currently affecting Ontario’s public sector – including correctional officers, lab technicians, welfare clerks, IT staff and more – across the province.
The union is requesting a wage increase of 15 per cent over three years, OPSEU said, adding that the Harris government is offering around six per cent.
The Harris government has rejected OPSEU proposals aimed at “rebuilding a public service shattered by seven years of cuts, layoff and privatization,” the union said.
Specifically, the government has been wrongfully contracting out IT services on a piecemeal basis and is in the process of privatizing more IT services, including help desk support, said Paul Marut, an public sector IT systems officer and OPSEU spokesperson in North Bay, Ont.
“There’s also movements afoot to contract out many other functions,” Marut said, adding that the government claims that it only contracts out due to a lack of qualified OPSEU staff to complete work – which he called a “complete falsehood.”
“We see it happen all the time where there’s OPSEU people to do the work…but they’ve contracted out,” he said. “We’re very concerned with the degradation of public services as a whole, and system officers have a part to play in that,”
Government IT employees currently earn less than what they might earn in the private sector, Marut said, adding that “a lot of times workers have gone from OPSEU to the private sector and come back (as contracted workers) making more money.”
The government says its latest wage offer, tabled this past weekend, marks a “significant change” from its earlier position. The offer provides OPSEU bargaining unit employees with an increase of 1.95 per cent in each of three years and several other incentives and benefits.
“This is a fair and reasonable offer,” said David Tsubouchi, chair of management board of cabinet, in a press statement. “The government simply can’t afford to meet all of OPSEU’s demands. A strike over our fair offer is completely unwarranted. I urge union negotiators to get back to the table.”
The Ontario Government Web site is at http://www.gov.on.ca
OPSEU is at http://www.opseu.org