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UPDATE: Ontario court strikes down wage-limiting law for public sector workers

Groups representing several hundred thousand public sector employees challenged the constitutionality of Bill 124, a law passed in 2019 that limits wage increases at one per cent per year for Ontario Public Service employees as well as broader public sector workers.
Nurses Rally Nathan Philips Square Bill 124
Nurses rally against Ontario's Bill 124.

An Ontario court has struck down a bill that limited wages for public sector workers.

Groups representing several hundred thousand public sector employees challenged the constitutionality of Bill 124, a law passed in 2019 that limits wage increases at one per cent per year for Ontario Public Service employees as well as broader public sector workers.

The province had argued the law did not infringe on constitutional rights.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General tells CityNews the Ford government will appeal the decision.

In the decision released Tuesday, Justice Markus Koehnen said the law infringes on the applicants’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“The Charter protects not just the right to associate but also the right to a meaningful process in which unions can put on the table those issues that are of concern to workers and have them discussed in good faith,” Koehnen said.

“Legislation that takes issues off the table interferes with collective bargaining.”

Unions representing government workers, teachers, nurses and university faculty members argued the law had taken away meaningful collective bargaining, thereby violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“As a result of this decision, Bill 124 is void and of no effect. Nurses are demanding the government respect the court’s decision,” the Ontario Nurses’ Association (RNAO) tweeted.

The provisions of the bill 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 sat for two weeks in September.

“It was clear from the beginning that this legislation was unconstitutional and a breach of our Charter rights,” the Canadian Union of Public Employees said in a tweet. “We have a message for the Ford government: Your bill legislated pay cuts for millions of workers. This is the time to make amends. This is the time for redress.”

Court heard the law affects more than 700,000 workers in the province. It does not apply to municipalities, First Nations and Indigenous communities, and for-profit companies.

Healthcare workers have long called for Bill 124 to be repealed. They’ve also said it has contributed to the healthcare crises in Ontario, which has seen droves of nurses and personal support workers recently leave the profession.

The province had argued it was under severe financial strain when it implemented the new law.

But the judge disagreed.

“On my view of the evidence, Ontario was not facing a situation in 2019 that justified an infringement of Charter rights,” Koehnen said.

“In addition, unlike other cases that have upheld wage restraint legislation, Bill 124 sets the wage cap at a rate below that which employees were obtaining in free collective bargaining negotiations.”

Dr. Doris Grinspun, the chief executive officer (CEO) the RNAO told Wake Up With Rob Snow on Nov. 20 said her organization is not surprised by the news, and is now pleading with the provincial government not to appeal the court challenge. 

"It's time for the premier and make peace and heal the hurt of healthcare workers," she said. "Bill 124 is toxic and has triggered many healthcare workers, especially nurses to exit the system."

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Doris Grinspun below:

With files from CityNews staff.

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