Public sector IT staff join picket lines

Among over 45,000 Ontario government employees who went on strike last week were IT workers concerned about increased...

Among over 45,000 Ontario government employees who went on strike last week were IT workers concerned about increased privatisation of government IT services.

Talks broke down between the Ontario provincial government and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), forcing a strike that is affecting Ontario's public sector. The union is requesting a wage increase of 15% over three years, OPSEU said, adding that the Harris government is offering about 6%.

The Harris government has rejected OPSEU proposals aimed at "rebuilding a public service shattered by seven years of cuts, layoffs and privatisation," the union said.

The government has been wrongfully contracting out IT services on a piecemeal basis and is in the process of privatising more IT services, including help desk support, said Paul Marut, a public sector IT systems officer and OPSEU spokesperson. "There are also movements afoot to contract out many other functions," he added.

Marut said government claims that outsourcing was necessary because of a lack of qualified OPSEU staff were a "complete falsehood".

"We see it happen all the time where there are OPSEU people to do the work but they have 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 earn less than what they might earn in the private sector, Marut said. "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 over the weekend, marks a "significant change" from its earlier position. The offer provides OPSEU bargaining unit employees with an increase of 1.95% 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."

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