Ontario hospital professionals say arbitration award falls short in addressing recruitment, retention

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Ontario’s hospital professionals, a group that includes laboratory technologists, respiratory therapists, and physiotherapists, claim that a recent arbitration decision doesn’t adequately address their long-standing concerns over recruitment and retention.

Arbitrator William Kaplan’s award included an 8.25% wage hike over three years, an addition to a previous 1% annual increment, lump sum payments ranging from $750 to $1,750 for those not included in the 2020 pandemic pay, and increased shift and weekend premiums.

This arbitration came in the wake of the Ford government’s Bill 124, which had capped wage increments for public sector workers at 1% annually for three years. In anticipation, the OPSEU/SEFPO Hospital Professionals Division (HPD) had inserted a “wage reopener” clause in their contracts, enabling renegotiations if the bill was judicially annulled.

Sandi Blancher, HPD Bargaining Team Chair, expressed that while the increased wages and benefits were steps in the right direction, especially given the noted staffing crisis in Ontario hospitals by Arbitrator Kaplan, they weren’t competitive enough.

“Years of stagnant pay, repeated understaffing leading to denied time off, and consistently heavy workloads mean this award, though a start, isn’t the full solution,” Blancher remarked.

Further dampening the award’s impact, the union highlighted that it doesn’t quite match the escalating living costs in Ontario. Statistics Canada data indicated a significant spike in food and shelter costs in 2022.

Sara Labelle, HPD Chair, emphasized the insufficiency of the awarded amount, especially in light of the pandemic pay members missed out on in 2020, which was considerably more than what was provided to their peers.

Labelle also drew attention to a broader systemic issue, “Hospital professionals are perpetually paid less than their peers in other healthcare sectors and private systems. This pay disparity will perpetuate the ongoing crisis in our hospitals.”

Bill 124 was annulled by the Ontario Superior Court in November 2022, a decision currently under appeal by the Ford government. OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick advised the government to focus on fortifying the public health system rather than spending on legal proceedings.

“Attacks on the workforce and hospital service privatization degrade the conditions for both the staff and the patients,” Hornick asserted. “Hospital professionals and the patients they serve deserve better.”

OPSEU/SEFPO advocates for over 25,000 workers across more than 250 distinct hospital professions in Ontario.

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