10/05/2012 04:40 EDT | Updated 12/05/2012 05:12 EST

OPSEU says McGuinty government rejects offer to extend contract, freeze wages

TORONTO - The Ontario Public Service Employees Union says the McGuinty government has rejected its offer to freeze wages and extend its current contract for another year.

The union says the government turned down the offer — which would hold locked wages and benefits to existing levels — less than 24 hours after it was made on Thursday.

OPSEU president Smokey Thomas says in a release that the rejection shows the government isn't interested in freezing union pay and benefits, but rather in starting negotiations that will likely lead to "drastic" cuts.

A spokesman for Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar says the government is optimistic it will reach an agreement balancing the union's interests with those of taxpayers once negotiations begin Nov. 5.

Thomas says the government's proposed public-sector wage freeze legislation would restrict bargaining talks to concessions only and open the door to the sell-off of public services.

Thomas said the union understands the restrictions the provincial deficit places on collective agreement negotiations.

"No one is looking for a pot of gold," he said.

"The only reason for the government to want to come to the bargaining table is to demand concessions, cuts and pave the way for privatizing and selling off public services," Thomas said. "Right now, our collective agreement is the only barrier that prevents the dismantling of public services in this province."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath expressed surprise at the government response to OPSEU's offer.

"If government employees are offering to accept a pay freeze I'd hope the government would actually listen, instead of simply walking away," Horwath said in a statement.

OPSEU's contract expires on Dec. 31.