Despite heroic sacrifices, Ontario health-care workers face real wage cuts
Ford government must reconsider ill-advised wage restraint legislation
TORONTO, ON, May 18, 2021 – Health-care workers who have been there for patients and their families in every corner of Ontario throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are telling the Ford government that its wage restraint program profoundly devalues the contribution they’ve made, and that it must go now.
For nearly 16 months, front-line health care staff have overcome challenge after challenge battling the coronavirus. Nearly 23,000 health-care workers have been infected with COVID-19, and 24 have died. They have worked extended shifts, mandatory overtime, weekend after weekend, with vacations cancelled, isolating from their families to protect them, without complaint because they knew the people of Ontario need them.
Health-care staff who are overwhelmingly female have been subjected to three rounds of provincial wage freezes in 15 years. The latest (Bill124) was introduced by the Ford government in November 2019. The impacts of wage restraint legislation on a gendered health-care workforce are tremendous, setting pay equity back many years and effectively widening the gender wage gap.
Inflation in March 2021 was 2.2 per cent and it is projected to continue to increase. Bill 124 restricts health-care workers’ wages to a maximum of 1 per cent, including any benefit improvements. In real terms, this means a real wage cut for each of the three years the legislation applies.
This wage restraint does not apply to male-dominated essential services, such as police and firefighters. Disparities are fueled even further because many pockets of the health sector – including for-profit long-term care homes – are excluded from its application. Because Bill 124 puts a cap on overall compensation, it prevents health-care workers from bargaining mental health supports or sick leave for part-time employees who contract COVID-19 at work.
Arbitrators, too, have shown ambivalence to the Bill. Several have indicated that it makes a mockery of collective bargaining and in some cases have outlined the wage increase they would award if the legislation did not constrain them.
Bill 124 is being challenged in the courts by several different groups – all are calling for it to be repealed. ONA has lodged a Constitutional Challenge.
This is a situation that must be made right by the Ford government. They need to repeal Bill 124 immediately, say the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE), SEIU Healthcare and Unifor. Collectively, the four unions represent more than 200,000 nurses, personal support workers, environmental/infection control services, administrative, professional and other health-care staff in hospitals, long-term care and community settings.
“As nurses and health-care professionals, we are passionate about what we do. However, after more than a decade of contracts that do not reflect either the highly specialized work that we do or recognize the value of nurses and health-care professionals to the system, we are saying enough is enough. Since 2010, real wages for RNs and health-care professionals have been cut by five per cent. It’s time to repeal Bill 124 and show these brave RNs and health-care professionals that they are valued and respected.”
Vicki McKenna, RN, President, Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA)
“Redeployed from her hospital to long-term care job, she nursed 12 residents with COVID-19 alone, around the clock for days. She was fearful that she could bring the virus home to her family, but she knew there was no one else to care for these residents and she saved all but one. Multiply this selflessness hundreds of thousands of times for a picture of the heroism and compassion of the health-care workforce. We do not accept that the thanks from the Ford government will be a real wage cut and we ask for the repeal of Bill 124.”
Michael Hurley, President, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
“Working women are the nurses, personal support workers, childcare workers, developmental service workers and so many others that politicians at Queen’s Park now like to call heroes and champions. But it is these heroes and champions who are living with the consequences of a Premier who decided to cap their wages so he could cut taxes for big corporations. Not just because these working women answered the call during the pandemic, but because of what they do always, it’s time Doug Ford revoked Bill 124 and gave our health-care workers the fair wages they deserve.”
– Sharleen Stewart, President, SEIU Healthcare
“What sets Ornge paramedics apart from most others in the province is that they are covered under the restraint of Bill 124,” said Katha Fortier, Unifor lead health-care negotiator and assistant to Unifor National President. “Last month, Unifor paramedics in Thunder Bay negotiated a collective agreement with the city. They were not constrained by Bill 124 and could bargain freely and fairly. Their settlement reflected what we would see in other first responders, like fire and police. This right, the right to free and fair collective bargaining, is not an option for Unifor paramedics at Ornge.”
Katha Fortier, Unifor Assistant to the National President