Sunday, March 07, 2004

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Re-invest in ONTC-MPP

Gord Young

Saturday, March 06, 2004 - 09:00

Local News - Praising the Liberals for abandoning privatization of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, New Democrat Gilles Bisson is calling for re-investment in the Crown corporation.

Bisson, the NDP’s transportation critic and Timmins-James Bay MPP, warned Friday the North Bay-based operation could become a shell of its former self without re-investment in key services.

“Stopping the ONTC selloff is a good first step — but it’s not the end of the story when it comes to better rail service and telecommunications for the North,” Bisson said.

The next step, he suggested, is to invest in infrastructure and improve passenger service scheduling to restore the operation as an economic development tool.

Bisson said he’s concerned what the early retirement offers announced Thursday will mean for the Crown corporation’s future.

He called the move a “back-door pink slip to 200 good-paying Northern jobs.”

Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, who announced the early retirement offers and an alliance of O.N. Telcom and Telus Corp., could not guarantee the jobs will be replaced.

He said the province is allowing the commission to offer early retirement to 200 eligible employees to help restore its financial health.

Phil Koning, a spokesman for more than 400 workers at five ONTC unions, says he does share Bisson’s cynicism.

This is the first time in recent memory, he said, the province and unions share a vision for the Crown corporation.

“The province has finally recognized what potential it has in the ONTC,” Koning said, noting a three-year business plan in the government’s hands calls for investment.

The unions recognize the need for restructuring and are prepared to address the issue of filling the retired-out positions at the bargaining table, Koning said.

Brian Stevens, president of Local 103 of the Canadian Auto Workers, representing 400 employees, has vowed the union will fight to protect jobs.

He said there’s a fixed number of people needed to maintain the ONR’s contracts and that retiring skilled workers will need to be replaced.

Not every eligible employee, Stevens said, will opt for early retirement.

An estimated 70 per cent of those eligible for early retirement are in North Bay.

Roy Hains, ONTC’s executive vice-president of operations and service improvement, said the commission hasn’t set any targets for early retirements.

But he acknowledged that some jobs likely won’t be filled.

Hains believes most of those eligible for early retirement will take the offer, long requested by employees.

The early retirement offers were included in a three-year business plan for the Crown corp., submitted to the province earlier this year.

ID- 60463

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