6/24/12

Is a Liberal-PC gang-up on collective bargaining coming?

In the Ontario Budget Bill, the Liberals tried to make some changes to interest arbitration for essential service workers like police officers, firefighters, and hospital workers who are not allowed, by law, to strike so must use interest arbitration to settle collective bargaining disputes.  The amendments would have made it hard if not impossible for respected arbitrators to work on interest arbitrations.

The NDP opposed the proposals. So did the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) -- but for different reasons.  They wanted the process turned even more in favour of employers, at the expense of essential employees.

As a result, the proposals were defeated and the Budget bill was passed without them.  The governing Liberals said, however, that they would bring changes to interest arbitration back to the legislature in the fall, with Dalton McGuinty saying he wanted to work with the PCs (so he could tack right).

That could be a tall order.  So far,only the NDP has been willing to work with the government.  Moreover, PC leader Tim Hudak said he would bargain hard over any amendments.

The PCs Labour critic Randy Hillier introduced a Bill in the most recent session of the legislature affecting interest arbitration. The Bill did not get anywhere, but Hudak has suggested that the Liberals should look to that Bill, if they want PC support.    

The Bill  (#70) was called the Trust in Arbitration Act 2012.  And indeed the Act would create great trust in arbitration -- for short-sighted governments.  

Rather than arbitrators agreed to by the parties, the Act would have created an "Independent Arbitrators Commission".  The (so-called)  "Independent Arbitrators" would be appointed by cabinet.  

The cabinet would determine the wages of the Commissioners (and require parties involved in disputes to pay fees for the use of the Commission).

The "chief commissioner" (also chosen by cabinet) would  choose the commissioner or panel (and the type of panel) to resolve the collective agreement dispute in question.  He or she would  also choose the method of dispute resolution to be used.  

While the Bill would initially cover firefighters, police and hospital workers, cabinet would be given the power to expand the Bill's coverage to other workers in the broader public sector.  

Hillier suggests  that he is enacting Don Drummond’s recommendation on arbitration.  “The commission will be mandated by this legislation to resolve disputes in light of the fiscal environment of the province and/or the employer; it specifies that tax increases are not a justifiable means to increase arbitration settlement awards.”

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