Ontario Budget Fails to Provide Severance Protection for Laid-off Workers, CAW President Says

March 26, 2009, 8:08 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza said that today's Ontario budget contains a mixture of positive and disappointing elements.  He praised the budget's announcement of major new financial support for infrastructure and training, and the acceleration of anti-poverty measures (such as the expansion of the Ontario Child Benefit).

However, Lewenza expressed disappointment at the budget's failure to address the issue of lost severance and back wages faced by the growing number of laid-off workers in Ontario.  He noted that despite thousands of job losses in Ontario, and a growing list of workers losing out on basic severance payments and outstanding monies owed, the government has failed to provide severance protection for workers and struggling families.

"There has never been a more critical time for government to step up, show leadership and protect the most victimized working people in this province - namely those that have lost their jobs and their back wages at the same time," Lewenza said.

Over the past days, laid-off workers across the province voiced their concerns over the lack of government protection for severance pay in a series of public rallies and a mass demonstration at Queen's Park on March 25.  The CAW has been a major organizer of the "Save Our Severance" campaign.

Part of the workers' demand was for Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca to introduce a provincial wage earner protection program that requires employers to pay all outstanding monies owed to workers in cases of bankruptcy. There were 2,800 reported business insolvencies in Ontario in 2008 alone, Lewenza noted.

Lewenza also noted that the Ontario public sector is facing serious funding and staffing challenges, especially the hospital sector.  Lewenza noted that hospitals are only assured a modest 2.1 per cent increase in base funding this year, which is not enough for many hospitals to avoid budget deficits and staff reductions at a time when more staff is needed to handle an aging population.

"Now is not the time to be adding increased pressure on local hospitals already struggling with service cuts and underfunding," Lewenza said, noting the budget also did not include any funding commitments to Ontario's long term care facilities.

Lewenza termed the provincial deficits that will be incurred during the coming recession as an "inevitable and necessary consequence of the global financial crisis," and praised Finance Minister Dwight Duncan for increasing overall program spending despite the economic downturn.  "Governments have a responsibility to boost spending during a recession, and this budget does that."

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