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January 20, 1999 
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Public workers warn against privatization

Union estimates 121,000 jobs have disappeared

By Vanessa Lu 
Toronto Star Workplace Issues Reporter

Helen Fetterly, a registered practical nurse with 30 years' experience, fears the drive toward privatization might eliminate her job. 

Between dramatic downsizing and privatization efforts in Ontario hospitals, she says health-care workers are bearing the brunt of changes, but it's the patients who are suffering. 

``It's the worst I've seen it,'' said Fetterly, of Cornwall. Contracting out of services in many areas of her hospital, including clerical staff, has Fetterly wondering about her future. 

``You're left feeling it's just a matter of time. When do I get contracted out?'' 

Fetterly was one of a half dozen workers at a news conference held yesterday by the Canadian Union of Public Employees to release its report on the impact of privatization across the country. 

She pointed out that food services in some hospitals are already contracted out to private companies. ``It's called chill and cook. When you get the toasts on the tray, they're like little hockey pucks,'' she said. ``You couldn't eat them.'' 

Others not yet privatized fear for their jobs. 

Mike Dick, a paramedic with the Ajax-Pickering Ambulance Service, worries Durham Region might consider choosing a private company to run its ambulances next year. 

Under changes to provincial law, control over ambulance services will be handed over to municipalities, and some regions are studying whether private firms are the way to go. 

``I think it's very shameful to be making money off somebody's illness,'' Dick said. ``They're there for one reason only. They're there for the good of their bottom line.'' 

CUPE's national president, Judy Darcy, said she hopes the report, Hostile Takeover: Annual Report on Privatization, will prompt people to fight the sell-off of public services. 

``It's assumed the private sector can do it better, that the private sector can do it cheaper. Our report debunks that myth,'' she told yesterday's news conference. 

Darcy charged that governments may be getting public debt off the books in the short term, but in the long term taxpayers suffer. That includes higher user fees, rising tuition, lack of home care or long waits for nursing homes. 

The union estimated 121,000 public sector jobs in Canada disappeared from 1992 to 1996. Darcy said some of those jobs were simply eliminated, others are now being handled by the private sector, often at much lower wages or on a casual or part-time basis. 

Rob Sampson, Ontario's minister without portfolio for privatization, said the provincial government considers carefully whether privatization is in the best interest. 

In fact, he said the government decided to keep control of TVOntario and the Toronto Convention Centre. ``We're prepared to take a look at all the ranges of opportunities, all the ranges of the private sector's role.'' 

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