Ontario court strikes down public sector wage cap law

Liam Casey and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — An Ontario court has struck down a bill that limited the wages of public sector workers.

Groups representing several hundred thousand public sector employees have challenged the constitutionality of Bill 124, a law passed in 2019 that limits wage increases to 1% per year for Ontario public service employees as well as for workers in the parapublic sector.

The province argued that the law did not violate constitutional rights.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Judge Markus Koehnen said the law violates the plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

« The Charter protects not only the right to organize, but also the right to a meaningful process in which unions can bring issues of concern to workers to the table and discuss them in good faith, » said Mr. Koehnen. Legislation that takes issues off the table interferes with collective bargaining.”

Judge wins case against unions representing government workers, teachers, nurses and university faculty, who argued the law had suppressed meaningful collective bargaining, violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms .

The bill’s provisions were to be in effect for three years as new contracts were negotiated, and the Tories had said it was a time-limited approach to help eliminate the deficit.

The case was heard for two weeks in September.

According to what was said in court, the law affects more than 700,000 workers in the province. It does not apply to municipalities, First Nations and Indigenous communities, or for-profit businesses.

Health care workers have long called for the repeal of Bill 124. They say it is contributing to the health care crisis in Ontario, which has recently seen large numbers of nurses and orderlies leave the profession.

The province had argued that it faced severe financial constraints when it implemented the new law. But the judge disagreed.

« My view of the evidence is that Ontario did not face a situation in 2019 that warranted an infringement of Charter rights, » Justice Koehnen said.

« Furthermore, unlike other cases that have upheld wage restraint legislation, Bill 124 sets the wage cap at a lower rate than what employees were getting in free collective bargaining. »

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