You have likely heard a lot about Bill 124 and its effect on Units 1 and 3’s bargaining. We at CUPE 3906 want to make sure our members are informed about the challenges that we and public sector workers across Ontario face.
What is Bill 124?
Bill 124 was proposed by Doug Ford’s government on June 5, 2019 to the Ontario Legislative Assembly. If passed, the bill imposes a series of 3-year “moderation periods” that limit compensation and salary increases to 1% per year for affected workers. “Compensation” is defined very broadly in the bill, and some interpret it to mean any increased cost to the Employer (e.g., for our units, benefits, increased hours of work, and, in our Employer’s interpretation, additional paid training, and even statutory deductions like CPP and EI).
The bill proposes that the government will enforce the 1% compensation limitations by reviewing any Collective Agreements or Arbitrated Settlements that are negotiated after June 5, 2019. If the Agreements do not meet the government’s cap, the parties (i.e., the Union and the Employer) will be forced to renegotiate the agreement until it meets the government’s limitations (even though the parties already reached agreement independent of the government’s interference).
According to the bill, Employers and Unions are not allowed to negotiate increases to make up for the moderation periods once the 3 years have passed.
Who is impacted by Bill 124?
Many, many public sector workers would be directly impacted by the proposed bill. Workers in hospitals, schools, non-profit long-term care homes, power workers, crown corporations, children’s aid societies, universities, colleges and more would be subject to this legislation. Municipal and certain for-profit institutions are excluded.
Every worker in Ontario, however, would be indirectly impacted by this bill because it proposes to infringe on basic constitutional rights to free collective bargaining.
Why should I care about Bill 124?
Not only does Bill 124 restrict workers’ abilities to negotiate contracts that allow for increases that at the very least keep up with increases to the costs of living, it also restricts workers’ fundamental constitutional rights to free collective bargaining under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Workers—and employers—currently have the right to negotiate collective agreements that address workers’ needs and priorities. If either side—the workers or the employer—feel that negotiations have ground to a halt, they can resort to a strike or a lockout according to the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
Bill 124 proposes to interfere with free collective bargaining by dictating what the kind and extent of gains can and cannot be negotiated. Even if the Union and the Employer agree to a Collective Agreement that both parties think is fair, the government will have the power to tear up the agreement and make the parties start the negotiation process again if the Agreement doesn’t fit the demands of Bill 124.
If workers do not like the Agreement that the government imposes, their only legal recourse under the Ontario Labour Relations Act—the right to strike—becomes meaningless. Similarly, employers are not free to bargain above the maximum increases according to the bill, even if they think their workers should get a better deal.
What can I do about Bill 124?
It’s important to realize that Bill 124 is, at present, just a Bill. This means that it is not yet law. With enough pressure from the public, it can be amended or struck down entirely.
Since Bill 124 is not law, Employers such as McMaster University are still free to negotiate Collective Agreements that they think are fair for their Employees. We invited the Employer to join us in a campaign to defend free collective bargaining at McMaster University and throughout Ontario, but the McMaster Administration declined this offer. It’s therefore up to workers, students, and community members to demand that the Employer negotiates according to what is currently lawful and right according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Workers, students and community members need to put pressure on the Ford government to drop Bill 124 before parliament reconvenes at the end of October, 2019. Bill 124 is not law, and there’s still time to make sure it never becomes law.