Ontario nurses celebrate pay equity victory

Supreme Court dismisses request to hear appeal over proxy method

Ontario nurses celebrate pay equity victory

After a 15-year battle, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) has won a crucial ruling that may one day see for-profit nursing home nurses paid equitably to male comparators in another industry.

On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a joint request by the for-profit nursing home employers’ group and the Ontario attorney general to hear an appeal to an earlier Ontario Court of Appeal ruling.

The fight was over the proxy method, which is a mechanism where female-dominated industries can use a comparator from another industry; in this case, it was male workers in municipal homes.

Government and employers have been told that this is unacceptable and it’s the law, so the decision was welcome news and a relief, says Vicki McKenna, ONA president in Toronto.

“It’s long, long overdue, and it is time that these nurses were treated properly,” she says.

“I had nurses calling me and emailing me texting me to say, ‘Do they have any other cards left in their deck? Can they stop this yet again? Is it really over or is this just a continuation of what we’ve been dealing with for the last 15 years?’”

Pay equity legislation was finally enacted in September for federal workers.

Next steps for pay equity

While the ONA hasn’t yet heard from the provincial government, hopefully contact comes soon, says McKenna.

“There may be a Hail Mary, out there for government and these employees that I don’t know about. There’s always the notwithstanding clause but I would say that would be a very bad move if they did something such as that.”

Many nurses may one day see a financial payout to make up for the last 15 years of being paid less than they should have, according to pay equity guidelines, she says.

“Some of these nurses who have worked through this timeframe, this is thousands of dollars in income that they have lost and pensionable earnings and all those things. Some of them said to me they watch closely, they’ve been hopeful, but they’ve never counted on the resolution in their working life.”

Many Ontario healthcare workers are considering leaving the sector because of poor wages and unsafe working conditions, according to a survey by SEIU Healthcare.

The ONA has reached out to the employers’ groups and hopes to hold talks soon, says McKenna.

“We’re in the process of setting up meetings with the employer group in particular and discussing our strategy for next steps, how we will implement this, what work needs to be done, and how we can move this.”

The timeline is unclear, especially with COVID, but this is a high priority, she says.

“We’re ready to come to the table to have these discussions… It’s time to sit down and make sure that these nurses will see this government and these employers do the right thing.”

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