7/29/12

Ontario government consulting on interest arbitration law

It was less than a year ago that Dalton McGuinty asserted that it was unwise to finagle with the interest arbitration system.

How things have changed.

As noted in June, the government introduced legislation in the recent Budget Bill to make interest arbitration more employer-friendly.  That however failed miserably.

But the Liberals are determined to dig in on this one.  They have promised to bring back new legislation in the fall. Despite McGuinty's earlier wisdom on this issue, they are indeed determined to finagle.

Both the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives opposed the interest arbitration changes, the former because of the bias the legislation introduced, and the latter because the bias did not go far enough (although causing trouble for the Liberals was probably a factor as well).

Now the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards says it has received assurances from the Ministry of Labour that it will be consulted as the new legislation concerning interest arbitration is drafted. The Association adds that it will further be working with members of the opposition parties to push them to come to an agreement on this issue.

Interest arbitration is the only legal way for essential employees (like hospital workers and police officers), who are forbidden by law from striking, to settle collective bargaining disputes.

This comes as both the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals have hardened their line on collective  bargaining and trade unions.

The Liberals have rapidly increased their demands on public sector workers.  First, they demanded a two year compensation freeze. In the last Budget they added a demand for a reduction in the employer's share of pension payments, where it was over 50%.  Then a compensation freeze wasn't good enough, they also needed concessions in bargaining.  And now they have begun demanding that any agreement lasting over two years also have a compensation freeze for the period over two years.

The PCs go much further,  insisting that the concessions imposed by the Liberals on catholic teachers do not go far enough.

While wage increases were eliminated, the PCs complain that junior teachers will still get  their normal annual increment increases until they reach the top step of their grid.  Although the government had proposed to stop increment increases, the catholic teachers association traded that off for the loss of three paid days for all teachers instead.  The teachers argued that this was more fair as it would not just target junior teachers.  The teachers association also agreed to delay when the teachers get the increment increase by half a school year.

Obscured by the PC rant on the increment increases is that the government benefits as senior teachers -- who reached the top pay step years ago and don't get increment increases -- retire and are replaced by junior teachers who earn far less for years.

Creating more trouble, the PCs also proposed in their recent "White Paper" to remove basic trade union rights won by our grandparents - proposals that would, if implemented, slash trade union membership in both the public and the private sectors  (at least in the short term).

These are the sharpest attacks on collective bargaining and trade unions rights in Ontario for many, many years.

The terrain is changing quickly.

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