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Society plans Bill 124 legal challenge with union coalition

December 17, 2019

The Society, along with nine other Ontario unions representing more than 250,000 thousand affected broader public sector employees, announced our intention to launch a coordinated Charter challenge against Bill 124. The legal challenge will be part of the broader Ontario labour movement’s aggressive grassroots campaign to repeal Bill 124.

“When the government erodes our collective bargaining rights we must fight back,” said Society President Scott Travers. “By legislating away our ability to freely negotiate the terms and conditions of our work, the government is taking away our rights that are protected by Canada’s Chart of Rights and Freedoms.”

More than 4,000 Society-represented employees are affected by Bill 124, including those who work for Ontario Power Generation, Independent Electricity System Operator, Ontario Energy Board and Legal Aid Ontario.

The joint Charter challenge is being brought by a coalition of public and private sector unions that represent workers across the broader public sector. The coalition includes: the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); Service Employees International Union (SEIU Healthcare); United Steelworkers (USW); Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC); the Society of United Professionals (IFPTE Local 160); Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE Ontario); AMAPCEO – Ontario’s Professional Employees; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 175. Additional unions and organizations representing public sector workers in Ontario are expected to join this coordinated challenge or pursue their own separate legal challenges to Bill 124 in the coming weeks.

“The workers of this province, represented by their unions, will not allow Bill 124, which erodes the Charter rights of every worker in Ontario, to stand uncontested,” said Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) President Patty Coates. “The OFL stands in solidarity with the education unions that have recently launched their challenges to the application of Bill 124 in the education sector, as we escalate the opposition to this government’s continued attack on the Charter rights of all Ontarians. Together, we are launching an aggressive campaign to demand the Ford Conservatives repeal this unconstitutional legislation.”

Ontario labour is united in our call on the Conservatives to repeal Bill 124, euphemistically named the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, which violates the Charter’s protected right to free and fair collective bargaining.

“In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that the freedom of association guarantee in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides constitutional protection for a meaningful right to collectively bargain, and for the right to strike”, said Steven Barrett of Goldblatt Partners, counsel for the union coalition.

“By failing to respect these fundamental constitutional rights, Bill 124 runs roughshod over free collective bargaining, and fails to respect what every experienced negotiator understands: the collective bargaining parties themselves are best able to negotiate agreements that reflect fiscal and workplace priorities and realities”. 

As Barrett added, “these restrictions on free collective bargaining cannot be justified by the government’s manufactured fiscal crisis, or by its desire to cut taxes when Ontario already has the lowest social spending per capita of any province.”

In recent years, unions have successfully coordinated together to challenge legislation that violates workers’ rights, such as the Liberals’ Bill 115 which interfered with collective bargaining in the education sector. The courts ruled that Bill 115 violated workers’ Charter rights. In the face of legal challenges, a coordinated resistance campaign and public opposition, the Bill was repealed.

Workers affected by Bill 124 include those employed by the provincial government, crown agencies, school boards, universities and colleges, hospitals, non-profit long-term care homes, children’s aid societies, social service agencies and the electricity and energy sectors.

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