he public sector has long been one of the last bastions of good stable jobs, but as the Ontario government continues to pursue a privatization agenda, that is under threat.

The potential consequences should concern everyone, not just those in the public sector themselves. The implications of the eroding security of government jobs can affect the job market as a whole. “There was a time where you could look at public sector jobs as the gold standard,” says Co-Founder of the Urban Worker Project and former NDP Member of Parliament Andrew Cash. “A lot of other jobs were measured against that standard. It’s important to have a model employer that other companies and workers can compare themselves against.”

More expensive, less accountable

When that model employer is eliminated, the employers that step in to fill the void are not always motivated to hold themselves to the same standards when it comes to either their employees or their services. And, as several prominent recent cases have shown, the costs to the taxpayers can sometimes end up being higher rather than lower. “The net effect of privatization is that it kills decent jobs and results in two people doing the job one person used to do,” says Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “It’s the get less for more plan. Accountability is out the window — it doesn’t save money and it doesn’t make things better.”

“Just about all of our social safety net is predicated on a traditional employer-employee relationship.”

Government should take care to ensure that attempts to privatize services do not irreparably harm the labour market or the services Ontarians depend on. “Selling public assets is the wrong way to go, but regardless of whether you are a private sector or public sector worker, our labour laws and policies are stuck in an era when the labour market looked entirely different,” says Cash. “Just about all of our social safety net is predicated on a traditional employer-employee relationship.”

Progressive action through public control

This disconnect is especially worrying when you consider that the public sector is one of the province’s leading employers of women, as well as other groups in particular need of employment protections. The equal pay and equal opportunity practices of the government are still far from ubiquitous in the private sector. “Premier Wynne has talked about how her infrastructure investments are creating jobs,” says Thomas. “But, she’s creating jobs in a still male-dominated society, and she’s funding it by cutting public sector jobs, one of the few industries that is predominantly women.”

It would be extremely short-sighted to simply believe we can turn these jobs over to the private sector and count on the market to provide efficiency without adversely impacting services or jobs. We as a society should instead have a serious conversation about how we are going to protect those jobs and services going forward.