Thursday, March 24, 2011

SK Budget Harbinger for Privatization - CUPE

CUPE Saskatchewan
March 23, 2011

Tom Graham, CUPE
REGINA—A budgetary commitment to roll back public services, including health care, on the backs of working people is a grave concern to Saskatchewan’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Saskatchewan).

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz noted in his budget address today that his government will focus on the “efficiency” of the public service, sticking with its target reduction of the civil service by 15 per cent over four years.

“It’s clear that the tax cuts announced in today’s budget will be paid for by fewer services for taxpayers,” said Tom Graham, president of CUPE Saskatchewan.

Health Regions “have been asked to continue to reduce operating costs through targets for employee sick time, overtime management, less time lost due to injuries and the increased use of group purchasing,” reads the Budget Summary. “…Reductions are not anticipated to significantly impact clinical care or patients directly.”

With health regions already operating at a deficit and many health care facilities consistently operating short-staffed, Graham said that putting more pressure on workers and patients to absorb the cuts is unreasonable.

“The half-baked promise that the cuts are ‘not anticipated to significantly impact clinical care or patients, directly,’ is simply not strong enough when it comes to protecting the health of the people of Saskatchewan,” said Graham.

CUPE expects the contracting out and privatization of health care to continue under the Sask. Party government, as a result of the budget’s lack of commitment to improving the capacity in the public system.

Some language from Krawetz’s address regarding health care was particularly disturbing to the union, which represents 12,600 health care workers and considers that each of its 30,000 members in Saskatchewan will access health care for themselves and their families.

“Saying that the government will ‘provide funding to support’ MRI and CT scans; that the government will ‘move forward’ on the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, which contracts out surgeries to the for-profit sector, and that $5 million is going to go to STARS, a fully-privatized health care provider from Alberta; that all sounds like privatization and contracting out,” said Graham, who added that the least-expensive, highest-quality and fairest way to offer health care is to expand and improve public delivery of health care.

Other sections of the budget appeared to point to privatization, as well.

Graham noted that the $5.1 million for off-sale alcohol vendors is clearly an earmark intended to weaken public liquor sales through Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority outlets.

The $600 million fund for infrastructure, of which $400 million will go to highways, is also an inadequate amount for the public sector to cover the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure deficit, according to Graham.

“Letting our infrastructure crumble is a convenient way for this government, like so many conservative governments before them, to say that they just can’t afford needed infrastructure and they’re going to have to look to the private sector to make up the difference through public-private partnerships (P3s) or selling off our Crown assets,” he said.

Graham also noted that the funding for affordable housing falls very short, putting money into the pockets of rental property developers and those families with the money to build new homes—but nothing into the threadbare pockets of low-income families who need housing solutions now.

Graham noted that CUPE is happily a supporter of local business, innovation and the lowest personal tax rates needed in order to fund a healthy province with accessible services. However, CUPE is disturbed to see that the 2011-2012 budget supports tax cuts and businesses on the backs of working people, vulnerable citizens and common sense.

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