SEIU case sets precedent for long queue of similar cases pending across Ontario.
Toronto (20 Sept. 2010) - A respected Ontario arbitrator says the McGuinty government's demand for a public sector wage freeze is unfair and unreasonable.
In a legally-binding decision, arbitrator Norm Jesin has denied a request from for-profit long-term care homes to impose a freeze on low-paid caregivers in nursing homes. A freeze would have worsened shortages of nurses and key frontline health care workers.
"The arbitrator has strove to be reasonable and even-handed in his ruling," says Sharleen Stewart, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents about 50,000 health care workers in Ontario.
"The province's call for restraint has been heard, but it has been balanced with fairness and the need to protect frontline services," she adds.
The independent arbitrator carefully weighed evidence provided by the province and rejected the government's case for targeting frontline staff at a time when corporate taxes are being reduced.
"I cannot accept that compensation should be frozen because of the budget," she writes in the ruling.
The final decision sets a precedent for a long queue of similar cases and is effective immediately for caregivers at about 100 nursing homes in the province who will get normal increases in line with inflation.
"SEIU has proposed innovative alternative ways to make sure we get the best value out of investments in health care. We look forward to working with the province to improve quality of care for patients and deliver value-for-money for Ontarians," says Stewart.
The ruling comes after Finance Minister Dwight Duncan publicly acknowledged that nursing home workers who were concerned about the fairness of the policy had a very valid point.
A freeze would have hit caregivers at nursing homes. The caregivers earn only 2.5% of the salaries paid to executives such as Extendicare CEO Tim Lukenda, who received $1.5 million in compensation last year.
The provincial government is expected to proceed with plans to ask executives at for-profit nursing homes to cap managers' compensation and freeze or suspend payouts to shareholders for two years so those funds can be invested in frontline care.
The ruling by the independent arbitrator is consistent with a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007 that struck down legislation with a similar intent that was introduced by the government of British Columbia.
The Supreme Court decision established that the right to free association and collective bargaining are protected under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedom and had been violated by the provincial legislation.
The independent arbitrator was appointed under a provincial law that establishes an arms-length process for reaching fair and equitable decisions in labour disputes consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE