Cap on Ontario public sector workers infringes on collective bargaining rights, court finds
Ontario’s Court of Appeal released its decision Monday on the controversial Bill 124, finding the law that would cap public sector workers’ wages to be unconstitutional.
The Court voted 2 -1 in favour of labour groups and unions who challenged the 2019 law.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government enacted the law in 2019 as a measure to reduce a deficit. Claiming that the salary cap on unionized and non-unionized public sector workers would save the province $9.7 billion.
“We urge Doug Ford to end his attacks on the very people we need to fix Ontario’s worsening health-care system,” CUPE Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and SEIU Healthcare presidents wrote in response to the bill.
Bill 124 twice ruled unconstitutional
Labour unions first challenged the Bill 124 in September 2022, claiming the law was unconstitutional since it would invalidate collective bargaining power of workers.
“Bill 124 represents a blatant attack on free and fair collective bargaining,” said Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “It interferes with this constitutional right, and tips the scales in favour of employers even before the parties sit down at the bargaining table together.”
In November 2022 the Superior Court of Justice declared Bill 124 “void and of no effect”, which the Ontario government appealed.
Today’s decision rejects that appeal. The Court wrote that while governments are entitled to control wage increases at certain levels, the processes used are what’s at issue.
"Ontario has not been able to explain why wage restraint could not have been achieved through good faith bargaining," wrote the court in its decision.
Labour groups awarded retroactive wages after Bill 124
Through arbitration, certain labour groups have already been granted retroactive wage increases; on Friday Ontario elementary and high school teachers were awarded a 2.75% wage increase for 2021 – 2022, CTV News reported.
“This decision reinforces what we have known all along; our members have been underpaid and undervalued for years while the Progressive Conservatives underfunded public education and shortchanged Ontario’s students,” said Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation president Karen Littlewood in a statement.