Op-ed by National President Chris Aylward published in Postmedia outlets on January 22, 2022.
If you experienced grocery store sticker shock over the holidays this year, you aren’t alone. Feeding your family now costs you 20 per cent more than it used to, and news headlines are filled with soaring numbers and their impact on Canadian pocketbooks.
The latest number-crunching in Canada’s Food Price Report is sobering. Grocery bills are set to rise by $966 for a typical family of four next year – the highest increase in 12 years. The price of fuel, hydro and natural gas are on the rise too, with some households forced to pay as much as 19 per cent more to heat their homes this winter.
Yet as inflation skyrockets to an 18-year high, wages have been stuck in neutral, and our actual purchasing power is going backwards, fast. When the price of basic groceries and necessities rises so quickly, your dollar simply doesn’t travel as far.
Never wanting a crisis to go to waste, right-wing columnists and economists are now pushing for spending cuts, wage freezes, and austerity. The BMO’s chief economist recently warned the federal government to keep public sector wages low so that it doesn’t build steam for other workers looking for wage increases.
That's right, as working Canadians are struggling to keep up with rising costs, they want to push public service workers further behind. Not because the government can’t afford to pay a fair wage, but instead because they want the government to send a signal of restraint and push down wages for workers everywhere.
They want the workers who are getting us through this pandemic – from public sector workers to retail workers and everyone in between – to pick up the tab at the end.
It’s pretty suspicious that when inflation starts to rise, it’s suddenly workers’ wages that are the problem and not the mega-corporations that have been jacking up the price of goods and raising the cost of living during the pandemic.
As usual, the rich keep getting richer, and average workers end up footing the bill.
That’s why current negotiations with more than 120,000 federal public service workers have come at a critical moment. The Bank of Canada forecasts higher inflation for the next few years. We’ll also be facing a tight labour market for the foreseeable future. More than ever, we need fair wages, good working conditions and inclusive workplaces – not just for members of the public service but for all Canadian workers. If we fail, we risk losing the talent Canada needs to deliver the programs and services Canadians depend on.
As Canada’s largest employer, the federal government needs to lead by example and show they’ll be here for Canadians – by setting the bar with wage increases that don’t leave workers behind.
The decisions made today will have longstanding effects, and not just for members of the public service. Every single Canadian will be impacted in the months and years ahead. Today’s collective agreements will determine whether the government will be there to deliver the help Canadians need when tomorrow’s crisis hits. And these agreements could help tip the tables across the country as millions of other Canadians fight for fair wages.
We find ourselves at a pivotal turning point; we could fall back to the outdated Harper-era low-wage, greed-driven austerity policies that only benefit the wealthy, or Canada could embrace the just economic recovery Prime Minister Trudeau has been preaching – one that leaves nobody behind.
I believe that the majority of Canadians – who supported progressive parties in the past election – want their government to be setting the standard for employers across the country when it comes to the fair treatment of employees. Pay cuts and an austerity agenda would hurt workers at this critical moment – and that’s simply not what a progressive government would do.