Public sector workers in Ontario are celebrating today following news of Bill 124 being struck down in an Ontario court.
A Superior Court Justice said the bill violated Charter rights primarily on the basis of denying the right to collective bargaining.
The bill has been a source of controversy since it was enacted in 2019, and in particular throughout the pandemic as overworked healthcare workers’ have seen their wage increases capped, resulting in an official legal challenge that began in September.
While the provincial government is expected to appeal the court’s decision, it could open the door to a significant shift in bargaining power for unions representing public sector employees.
Justice Markus Koehnen presented an 80-page report outlining his decision on Tuesday, saying that Bill 124 infringes on workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
In a statement from the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), Interim Provincial President Bernie Robinson says the union has never wavered in its belief that Bill 124 was unconstitutional.
“ONA and its members are celebrating this hard-fought win. This is a vindication of the rights of nurses, and public-sector workers across the province,” Robinson said.
“ONA’s position from the start was that this bill interfered with the Charter rights of nurses and health-care professionals to freely negotiate a collective agreement. We are ecstatic that the courts agree.”
The province’s bill, called the “Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act“, was passed under the justification that compensation increases for public sector employees need to reflect the fiscal situation of the province and lend to a long-term sustainable public sector, limiting salary increases to 1% annually.
Critics say that raise doesn’t even match inflation, and point towards raises given to MPPs and licence plate sticker refunds announced this year as examples of double standards.
In a separate statement, ONA says Ford and the Conservative government should cut their losses with this decision and not further elongate this process.
“ONA is demanding the Ford government accept the court’s ruling and stop wasting taxpayer dollars fighting workers in court,” the statement read.
“Nurses and public sector workers have waited long enough for fairness. It’s time for nurses and health-care professionals to achieve a fair and respectful collective agreement and the wages they are owed.”
Several other public sector unions throughout the province expressed their support of the court’s decision.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General has said the decision is being reviewed and the province intends to appeal.