Public service workers unite against cuts
By Doug Diaczuk
Second World War veteran Roy Lamore is worried about what will happen to him and the many other veterans in the city when the local Veterans Affair office closes its doors.
The six employees at the local office are among 300 public service workers in Thunder Bay losing their jobs this year as a result of the Harper government’s austerity measures.
“It’s going to have one hell of an impact,” Lamore said. “It’s gotten to the point where they (the government) are digging at everything and when they start going at the veterans, it’s time to really draw the line.”
Local unions in Thunder Bay banded together to take part in a National Day of Action on Saturday that saw protests across Canada against recent job cuts in the public service sector.
Pietro Masdea, president of the Union of Taxation Employees Local 00020, organized the event in Thunder Bay for the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Several local unions participated in the rally and Masdea explained that the message being shouted on Saturday was that workers will not be bullied by the government.
“We will stand up to keep our jobs, to keep quality public services, and to keep the economy strong,” he said.
According to Masdea, over 300 public service jobs in Thunder Bay have been eliminated and over 19,000 across Canada in 2012. The most recent round of job cuts last week saw 48 jobs eliminated in the region. Public service offices that have been affected include Veterans Affairs, Immigration, Canada Revenue Agency, the Coast Guard, and Service Canada and Human Resource Development Canada.
Masdea said the job cuts will damage an already struggling economy, as less people working means less people being able to support area businesses. Even more concerning, public services may be more difficult to access for vulnerable people who may be left behind all together.
“You can’t eliminate 300 jobs in Thunder Bay, specifically people who support and deliver public services, and then expect that the services won’t be hurt or affected,” Masdea explained. “When you cut the public services, people like seniors are going to have a harder time to get simple services.”
Seniors are being told to go online or to call 1-800 numbers to receive services. But as Masdea points out, many seniors are already on fixed incomes and may not have access to the Internet.
“People may end up falling through the cracks,” Masdea said. “We are here to say we won’t fall through the cracks.”
Area veterans know how important it is having the face-to-face interaction with an actual person when it comes to the delivery of important services. Royal Canadian Navy veteran, Rob Cutbush, explained that he deals with physiotherapists, a case manager, and an occupational nurse from the local Veterans Affairs office.
“If I phone the 1-866 number the other person on the other end of the line isn’t going to drive out to my house to see to my needs,” Cutbush said. “How is that work going to be done? It’s not. As the army says, you need boots on the ground.”
“You can’t do that on the phone,” Lamore added. “You have to have the personal respect of someone sitting with you, who knows what they are talking about.”
Cory Pollock, also a veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy, said service men and women put their lives on the line for the country and he is worried about what kind of message the government is sending to veterans of past wars and those currently serving to protect the country.
“This is an essential service to the veterans,” Pollock said. “These veterans need this service. It is a slap in the face to the veterans that the government is even thinking of shutting down a service for them. They have already given up enough. They have given up their lives.”
Area veterans are standing up to lend a voice to the many people who are going to be affected by the job cuts in the area. Lamore’s message to the government is that it is time to wake up and leave the veterans alone.
“There are only so many left,” he said. “What is going to happen in the next war that’s going to come up? Are we going to throw the veterans out the door? It’s just ridiculous. It’s the most idiotic move they could make.”