“Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.” – Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President OPSEU
Ottawa (6 June 2019) – The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), representing 390,000 workers across Canada, is condemning the introduction of legislation in Ontario capping wage settlements in the broader public sector to 1% over the next three years.
The legislation came as a surprise to many as the province’s public sector unions were not provided advanced notice.
Disrespectful to province’s public sector workers
According to Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), the bill shows that “Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.”
"This bill has nothing to do with Ontario’s finances. It has everything to do with Ford’s irresponsible decision to push beer and wine into convenience stores.”
Thomas further points out that: “Expenditures aren't our problem. Revenues are, yet Ford insists on giving away $3.8 billion to his rich buddies and wasting millions on pals like Ken Hughes who provide zero value for the money they bleed from the taxpayer.”
A number of the province’s labour leaders have denounced the move as undermining good faith in the bargaining process.
Increasing income inequality in Ontario
Larry Brown, President of NUPGE, notes that, “one of the biggest issues for our society is income inequality; nearly all the gains from the growth in our economy have gone to the top 10%, in fact mostly to the top 1%. This is rotting our society and strangling our economy. Attacks on public sector wages don’t help resolve income inequality, they make the problem worse. The wealthy and powerful will get more wealthy and powerful, while public sector workers, of whom slightly over half are women, will fall further behind.”
“Not only is legislating wages one more attack on income fairness, one more contribution to the problem of income inequality – it is also cowardly,” said Brown. “Instead of coming to the bargaining table armed with arguments and facts, the government is pre-empting any fair process by using the blunt weapon of legislation.”
“A cowardly move that will make the severe problem of income inequality worse. This is governing for the people? Which people?”
Legislation is possibly unconstitutional
A number of legal experts and OPSEU/NUPGE see the legislation as probably unconstitutional. They insist that the legislation violates collective bargaining rights that are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A number of unions are currently preparing a constitutional challenge and planning opposition over the summer.
The legislation tabled by the Ford government, therefore, does two very destructive things. It effectively cuts the pay of public servants by imposing a rate that is half the current rate of inflation. It also violates the human rights of workers as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forms part of our Canadian Constitution.
Human Rights and Labour Rights are protected in Canadian law and in international law. What the Ford government has done by imposing this legislation is to create the conditions for battles in the courts and protests in the streets as workers are forced to stand up against this injustice. The Ford government is being reckless and does not care that the most vulnerable, who rely on these public services, could be harmed by the crisis it is creating.
Respect the rule of law and collective bargaining rights
For decades the system of collective bargaining has ensured that both employers and workers can sit down and work out an agreement that benefits both parties. A contract is signed and enforced. The system works.
What Doug Ford is doing is denying workers the right to bargain and setting workers' compensation by decree. This turns back the clock to darker days for workers when they had little power or protection under the law. There is little doubt that this arbitrary law will be overturned by the courts but Ford knows that it takes years for cases to make their way through the courts and in the interim, the chaos that is created will be very destructive.
Picking a fight with the people who deliver essential public services is an attempt to create a crisis in our public services. The next concern is that the chaos Ford has created will be serve as an excuse for even more egregious attacks on working men and women in Ontario.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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