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OPG, Hydro One salaries soar

Canadian Press - April 9, 2004
By Gillian Livingston

The percentage of workers at Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One earning $100,000 or more has skyrocketed over the past five years, and that's "out of line," Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said Thursday.

"They're certainly out of line with a public utility and they appear to be out of line with Ontario, with the broader public sector," Duncan said.

He released a summary of the figures after legislation was passed Thursday requiring the companies to disclose the names of workers with salaries of $100,000 or more.

The full salary details are expected to be released next week.

Since 1999, when the two utilities were exempted from disclosing salaries, the percentage of workers earning $100,000 in salary and benefits at Hydro One has skyrocketed to 35 per cent last year from seven per cent, while it has tripled at OPG to 36 per cent from 12 per cent.

"I think we have a lot of work to do at OPG," Duncan said, adding that he'll take more steps next week. "We've got to get this train back on the track. We have to start to fix things." "I'm going to be doing that. I have confidence that we can move forward and begin to fix the troubles."

Although Duncan said he was "surprised" by the numbers, he acknowledged that his hands are tied by union contracts at OPG and Hydro One. "My options on this are very limited in the short-term; there's contractual obligations and so on," he said. "It's not only a question of salaries, it's also a question of the companies themselves."

Duncan blamed the steady rise in salaries at the utilities on the former Conservative government's privatization moves, and the corporate culture and lack of accountability at OPG and Hydro One since they were exempted from disclosing salaries.

John Earl, a spokesman at OPG, said the utility had sharply higher overtime costs last year due to the August blackout and a number of maintenance shutdowns at the Pickering and Darlington nuclear power plants. In addition, OPG's workforce is highly trained and skilled. "We have scientists, engineers, technicians, chemists, physicists as well as accountants and so on," he said.

Peter Gregg, vice-president of corporate communications at Hydro One, said overtime costs rose last year at the utility partly due to the blackout, but also because of a number of storms that took down power lines in areas of the province. In addition, most transmission line maintenance work has to be done on weekends and evenings -- which means higher pay for workers -- since power often can't be shut off during business hours.

"Salary levels are certainly in line with industry standards," he said.

At Ontario Power Generation, which produces 70 per cent of the province's electricity, 3,980 of its 11,010 employees (36 per cent) earned benefits and salary of $100,000 or more last year. That compared to 1,759 of its 15,114 workers (12 per cent) in 1999.

At Hydro One, which runs the province's transmission system, 1,324 of its 3,790 employees (35 per cent) reached the 100-grand club in 2003. That compared to 384 of its 5,632 workers (seven per cent) in 1999.

Don MacKinnon, president of the Power Workers' Union, which represents about 10,000 workers at both OPG and Hydro One, said the salaries at the two companies are reasonable for the skilled work employees do. "It's clear to us that we have less people doing more work," he said. "We don't believe they're overpaid for what they're doing."

"Our members are the ones who have kept the lights on through 10 years of restructuring, downsizing, and three different parties forming the government, tampering with significantly with the electricity file." "And to heap on them some notion that somehow they're overpaid is absurd in my view."

Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation have come under scrutiny in recent months following reports of multimillion-dollar salaries, bonuses and severance packages for former executives.

More questions were raised by revelations of lavish executive spending and that several prominent friends of the former Tory government got untendered contracts worth millions.

Those reports came forward after the province opened up the two companies to Ontario's Freedom of Information Act in the fall.

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