Canada's largest public-sector union is launching a new social media campaign to protest the job losses and service cuts it says will result from the government's effort to reduce the deficit.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada says Canadians are being asked to make "an absurd choice" between a balanced budget and strong public services.
"The government is making people choose between the deficit and public services and that's an absurd choice because we are saying there are other choices," PSAC national president John Gordon said in a telephone interview on Friday. "It's kind of like asking, 'Would you like to pay down your mortgage.' Everybody's going to say yes. Well then, 'What about feeding your kids?'"
The public-sector unions are preparing for the loss of tens of thousands of jobs as Treasury Board President Tony Clement presses ahead with a government-wide austerity program to rein in a multi-billion-dollar deficit.
Mr. Gordon is worried about what is going to happen to federal employees "but, more importantly, if our members are not there, then services in communities all across this country are going to be disrupted."
PSAC's members perform wide range of government jobs including environmental protection, food inspection, infectious disease tracking and search-and-rescue. "All of these are service that people depend on," Mr. Gordon said, "and some of them are life-saving services."
Mr. Clement wrote to Mr. Gordon this week to complain that he has received no help from the unions in making government more efficient.
When the NDP asked him about the letter during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday, Mr. Clement said: "We on this side of the House are focused on the issues that Canadians care about: jobs, economic opportunity, economic growth and making sure governments spend within their means. It is clear that union bosses do not have the same agenda and they are joined at the hip with the NDP Opposition."
Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada released a new industrial relations outlook for 2012 on Friday called Going Sideways, With a Twist that predicts an increased prospect of work stoppages in the public sector next year. The report says that labour – which has quietly accepted restraint in recent years – is becoming frustrated with ongoing demands for concessions from government employers.
"A number of large public sector institutions will be at the bargaining table in 2012," Karla Thorpe, the director of human-resources research for the Conference Board said in a release. "The federal and provincial governments are focused on eliminating their respective budget deficits, and this will limit their ability or willingness to offer much more than modest wage increases."
"The sense of frustration among public sector unions is growing because they accepted restraint at the outset of the recession. As a result, the potential for job action in the public sector will be greater in 2012 than in previous years."