Ontario Court of Appeal sides with workers in challenge to Bill 124

The Canadian Press

Published on Monday, February 12, 2024 5:37 am EST

Last updated Monday February 12, 2024 12:09 pm EST

TORONTO – Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s law that imposed wage restrictions on public sector workers violated their collective bargaining rights and is unconstitutional, the province’s Court of Appeal ruled Monday.

The law, known as House Bill 124, capped pay increases for public sector workers at one percent annually for three years.

A lower court struck it down as unconstitutional, and the Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, largely upheld that ruling, writing that the violation could not be justified.

“Due to the law, organized public sector workers, many of whom are women, racialized and/or low-income, have lost the ability to negotiate for better compensation or even better working conditions that have no monetary value” said the report. the court wrote in its majority opinion.

The Progressive Conservatives enacted the law, known as Bill 124, in 2019 as a way to help the government eliminate the deficit. The province had argued that the law did not infringe constitutional rights, saying the charter only protects the negotiation process, not the outcome.

The Court of Appeal wrote that governments have the right to try to keep compensation increases at a certain level, but the question is how they do it.

“Ontario has failed to explain why the wage restriction could not have been achieved through good faith negotiation,” the court wrote.

“In the absence of evidence of the need for convenience or that the same objective cannot be achieved through collective bargaining, it is difficult to understand on what basis the salutary effects of the law outweigh its beneficial effects.”

The law sparked widespread outrage among labor groups and opposition parties, focusing especially on its effects on the health sector, as critics say it is partly responsible for driving nurses out of the profession or placing them in private nursing agencies, where the salary is substantially higher for the same work.

Two unions representing health care workers said in a joint statement Monday that it is a victory for working families and all unions that fought to protect workers’ rights to freely negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

“We urge Doug Ford to end his attacks on the very people we need to fix Ontario’s worsening healthcare system,” wrote CUPE and SEIU Healthcare Council of Ontario Hospital Unions presidents.

The union representing the province’s public elementary teachers said the government should never have appealed the decision in the first place, as it “wasted” taxpayer money and undermined its recent contract negotiations.

“Let the court’s ruling be a lesson to the Ford government to never again shirk negotiations or trample on workers’ democratic rights,” the Ontario Federation of Primary Teachers wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024.

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