'The government should focus on meaningful action to address cost-of-living and health care crises'
Several groups are criticizing the Ontario government for its decision to appeal a court ruling on Bill 124.
In his decision at the end of November, Judge Markus Koehnen ruled the wage restraint legislation infringed on collective bargaining rights for nurses and other public sector workers.
The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) says the government's decision to appeal is “shameful” and demonstrates it has failed to understand the magnitude of the nursing crisis facing the province's health system.
"The decision by Premier [Doug] Ford's government is a betrayal to nurses, to the profession and to the public, who are witnessing the crumbling of a health system that desperately needs more nurses. The decision to appeal Bill 124 and continue its fight to leave wage restraint legislation in place is an affront to everyone," says RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun.
The legislation has capped salary increases for nurses and other public sector workers at one per cent annual since 2019, she says, “a massive reduction in real salary given the 12.5-per-cent cumulative inflation since that year."
Ontario's Bill 124 was declared "void and of no effect" by the Superior Court of Justice.
It was estimated the legislation would save the province $9.7 billion in salaries and wages costs for both unionized and non-unionized public sector employees.
Should take ‘meaningful action’
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) says it is “outraged” by Ontario’s move to appeal the decision to strike down Bill 124.
“The Ford government should be focused on taking meaningful action to address the simultaneous cost-of-living and health care crises in this province. Instead, they are choosing to spend public dollars to fight workers in court,” says Patty Coates, OFL president.
The OFL, as part of a coalition of over 70 unions, launched the Charter challenge against Bill 124 to defend workers’ rights.
Nurses and health-care professional across the province are “beyond angry and frustrated” that this government is continuing to defend Bill 124, says Bernie Robinson, interim president of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA).
“The premier must stop attacking nurses and health-care workers. He should have done the right thing and accepted the court's clear decision. Now, hundreds of thousands of public dollars will be wasted fighting workers in court."
In 2020, unions called on the Ontario government to make changes to Bill 124 after a Manitoba court deemed similar legislation as unconstitutional.
After a two-day strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — along with unions from other provinces offering their support, plus strong objection from the public — the Ford government agreed to repeal the Keeping Students in Class Act in November 2022.