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Ontario top court rules on constitutionality of Bill 124

The law capped pay increases for public sector workers at one percent annually for three years.

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Ontario’s top court will rule today on the constitutionality of a law that capped pay increases for more than one million workers in the general public sector, including nurses and teachers.

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The Progressive Conservatives enacted the law, known as Bill 124, in 2019 as a way to help the government eliminate the deficit.

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It capped pay increases for public sector workers at one percent annually for three years.

The law sparked widespread outrage among labor groups and opposition parties, and its effects on the health sector received particular attention, with critics saying it is partly responsible for driving nurses out of the profession or enter private nursing agencies, where the salary is substantially higher for the same work. work.

Labor groups and unions representing hundreds of thousands of public sector employees challenged the law, and in late 2022, the Ontario Superior Court found it infringed on collective bargaining rights and struck it down as unconstitutional.

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The government appealed and the Court of Appeal says its decision will be announced today.

Since the law was struck down, even while it was pending appeal, arbitrators have awarded additional back pay to several groups of workers who had “reopening” clauses in their contracts, including teachers, nurses, other hospital workers, public servants, ORNGE air ambulance paramedics, and university professors.

Several hospitals have told a legislative committee holding pre-budget hearings that Bill 124’s reopening arbitration rulings are straining their budgets, even though the government has pledged to reimburse them.

“The agreements in Bill 124 are placing hospitals in extraordinary cash flow difficulties, threatening our financial viability and forcing delays in critical capital purchases,” Sherri McCullough, chairwoman of the board of directors, told the committee last month. Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

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Ontario’s chief financial accountability officer said in 2022 that Bill 124 would save the province $9.7 billion in public sector wages and salaries, although a successful court challenge would virtually eliminate that figure.

That could cost the province $8.4 billion over five years, he said.

Although the 2019 law was limited in duration to a three-year period, it still affects collective bargaining due to the expiration date of some previous contracts and the length of some negotiations.

The Ontario Provincial Police recently began negotiating a new contract, which would be subject to Bill 124 if the law were in force.

Additionally, late last year the province’s corrections officers received raises of 9.5 per cent over three years after Bill 124 was repealed midway through its negotiation process.

Whatever the ruling of the Court of Appeal, a party may apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

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