5/4/11

Are Liberals and Conservatives planning to undermine interest arbitration?

Mop and Pail columnist Adam Radwanski makes the following claims about public sector interest arbitrators in today's paper:


"The opposition is publicly calling them out. The Ontario government is grumbling about them behind closed doors. Both hold them responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in wage costs that could put the squeeze on public services, as the province struggles to climb out of deficit....
"The situation appears to be coming to a head, with growing rumblings that the party holding power after October’s election will seek to overhaul the arbitration process. But how exactly the Liberals or Conservatives would achieve that is unclear.
"The Tories seem to be a little further along in their thinking; a party official said they’re developing a 'mechanism' that would involve new legislation. But it has to be a little daunting that former premier Mike Harris - who had a stronger stomach for confrontation than today’s leaders - went down this road in the 1990s and emerged with little to show for it."
Hospital workers are without the right to strike in Ontario and are compelled by law to settle contract disputes through interest arbitration, a process whereby the hospitals and the union puts their case to an independent arbitrator (and a union and hospital nominee).  
OCHU was forced to go through a four year campaign in the 1990s to get the Mike Harris PC government to move off its plan to develop an  arbitration process biased in favour of the employers. 
It has only because the parties have access to an impartial process, that the Hospitals and OCHU have been able to freely negotiate four central agreements since that time.  
The McGuinty Liberals have long courted public (and private) sector unions -- with some success.  So if the Liberals are seriously considering this, it would be a troubling change in direction.   It will be interesting to see if those unions are able to secure a commitment from the Liberals that they will not introduce changes to the interest arbitration system after the election.  
There is no word in Radwanski's piece on what legal mechanism the Conservatives are looking at.  Radwanski, however, does muse about two models:  “final-offer arbitration, in which arbitrators choose one of the two sides’ proposals rather than coming down the middle," and "a form of peer review in which other arbitrators would sign off on their colleagues’ decisions, giving individuals less control over precedent-setting contracts."
Interest arbitration awards for hospital RNs and paramedical staff are likely to come out before the provincial election.

No comments:

Post a Comment