In a landmark decision hailed by labour unions and health-care workers, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a ruling by the Ontario Superior Court that found Bill 124, a wage-suppression legislation enacted by the Ford government in 2019, unconstitutional.
This ruling represents a significant victory for labour rights, particularly affecting tens of thousands of workers in the health care and education sectors.
Unifor, Canada’s largest union in the private sector, and the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), which represents 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, have both praised the court’s decision.
Unifor National President Lana Payne described the ruling as a “vindication” for workers who were denied their constitutional right to fair and free collective bargaining. Similarly, ONA Provincial President Erin Ariss called the legislation a “sham” and criticized the government’s approach to handling the demands and needs of frontline health-care professionals.
Bill 124 had imposed wage caps on public sector employees, affecting more than 18,000 Unifor members working in various health and social services, and a large portion of ONA’s membership. The bill’s impact was particularly harsh on women, the unions said, who make up more than 70% of Unifor’s members affected by the legislation, many of whom are engaged in traditionally undervalued, female-dominated care work.
Following the Ontario Superior Court’s decision, Unifor played a crucial role in securing retroactive pay for workers impacted by the wage caps, negotiating special “re-opener” language into collective agreements that allowed for the renegotiation of wages. This proactive step led to wage increases for workers across the health and education sectors, addressing the critical issues of affordability and the need for a robust health care system capable of meeting patients’ needs.
Both Unifor and ONA have emphasized the broader implications of the court’s decision, highlighting its affirmation of workers’ Charter rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The unions also stress the importance of strong collective bargaining not only for improving working conditions but also for enhancing the quality of public services for Ontarians.
The unions’ leaders have called on Premier Doug Ford to heed the court’s decision and to stop fighting public-sector workers in court. They urge meaningful action to address the challenges facing Ontario’s public health care system, particularly in light of the increasing exodus of nurses from the profession — a trend exacerbated by the conditions created by Bill 124, it said.