Yesterday, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck down the Ford government’s Bill 124 legislation that capped public sector wage increases at just 1% per year. This is an important legal victory for Society members’ — and all workers' — collective bargaining rights and may lead to compensation for every member who had their rights violated and wages suppressed.
From the day Bill 124 was introduced, the Society told members that their union would vigorously challenge this offensive legislation on their behalf. While the Society has done that and was victorious, the fight isn’t over yet.
Society President Michelle Johnston (second row, second from right) at press conference announcing Bill 124 legal challenge, December 17, 2019
In spite of a legally sound and unambiguous 80-page decision in Superior Court, the government has announced it plans to appeal. Regardless of how many appeals it must argue, the Society, with the support of an excellent legal team, will continue to fight Bill 124 in court to protect members' rights and push for fair compensation.
Just a few weeks ago, there was a major conflict between workers and the Ford government over the government’s use of the Notwithstanding Clause to strip away collective bargaining rights. Given Premier Doug Ford’s history of using the Notwithstanding Clause, Society leaders don’t know exactly what to expect in this case. It is possible Ford could use the Notwithstanding Clause again to override the court’s decision to strike down Bill 124. But the Society hopes that the premier and his government will decide not to use the Notwithstanding Clause again after seeing that workers will rise up to protect their rights. Workers did it once and will do it again if needed!
This court decision did not address how workers should be compensated for the harms done by Bill 124. That will be determined by the court at a later date. Any compensation would come only after this matter is finalized, including all appeals.
In ruling Bill 124 to be "void and of no effect," Justice Koehnen found that workers subject to this legislation had had their section 2(d) Charter rights violated. Section 2(d) protects Canadians' right to freedom of association, which includes forming a union and being able to take part in free and fair collective bargaining. The government had claimed that due to a fiscal crisis it was justifiable to violate workers' section 2(d) rights. However, Justice Koehnen found this was not a justifiable violation because the supposed fiscal crisis were simply the government's regular budgetary considerations combined with a fear that demanding workers accept a 1% cap on compensation increases would result in strikes.
Members may click here to download and read the decision. Some parts of the decision that may interest Society members include:
- Paragraphs 9 and 10, which summarize the impact of Bill 124 and determine that it is not a reasonable limit on workers’ Charter rights
- Paragraphs 63 and 73, which look at the financial impact of Bill 124 had on workers
- Paragraph 139, which details the way Bill 124 interfered with the interest arbitration process that Society members rely on if they do not have the right to strike (as is the case at OPG and IESO)
- Paragraphs 193-194, which look at the deficient consultation process the government used prior to introducing Bill 124 through the lens of the Society’s provincial electricity sector bargaining units
- Paragraphs 302-312 and 335, which focus on the Society’s argument that it was unreasonable for the government to include electricity sector workers in wage restraint legislation since their wages do not impact the government’s fiscal position