TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 3, 2012) - Hospital workers are asking Ontario Liberals to reconsider draft legislation unveiled last week, that if passed ends access to an independent arbitration process, gives ministers extraordinary powers to impose contracts and attacks fundamental civil liberties for more than 250,000 health care workers who already enjoy restricted rights.
In place for more than four decades, interest arbitration replaces the right to strike or lockout in the health care sector. Arbitration offers dispute resolution without labour instability, largely because both employers and workers see the system as balanced and fair, and arbitrators as independent from government influence.
"Under cover of wage freeze legislation, this government is ending free collective bargaining. The government has crossed a line by its attack on our civil liberties," says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Hospital workers, says Hurley, "did not expect to be immune from the impact of the recession and expected the wage freeze." In fact, OCHU's last 4 year contract, expiring in 2013, provided modest wage increases. "We have been bargaining in a restrained way. Removing healthcare workers' civil rights is unnecessary, unfair and unacceptable," says Hurley.
The Ministry of Labour's data show that Ontario's interest arbitration system is working well. A ten-year comparison of arbitrated wage settlements shows that they are virtually identical to those achieved for the same period in right to strike sectors, private and public. In the health sector arbitrated settlements are slightly less generous than in other sectors.
Because arbitrated outcomes mirror negotiated wage and benefits in both the public and private sectors, the Liberals' own freely negotiated settlement giving provincial police an 18 per cent wage increase was replicated for police and then firefighters across the municipal sector, causing municipalities to attack the arbitration system. "The problem in the municipal sector is not arbitration, it is the pattern that arbitrators must replicate, a pattern that the Liberals created", Hurley says.
"Having already lost the right to strike, we will not, and cannot accept the loss of a fair arbitration process to replace that right. We will not accept ministerial authority to tear up agreed-to agreements between employers and hospital workers and to impose contracts. If the Liberals choose to proceed with an attack on our democratic rights, there will be unpredicted consequences," warns Hurley.
Ontario spends $330 less per person than any other province on hospital care and has the lowest staff to patient ratio and the shortest lengths of stay of any province. "Ontario has the most efficient and dedicated healthcare workers in the country. All our members want to do is to do their jobs, looking after the people of Ontario. By attacking their rights, the government is threatening the stability and efficiency of the system," says Hurley.
OCHU/CUPE hospital and long-term care members will soon debate a plan of action to defend their civil liberties and to protect their right to free collective bargaining and a fair, impartial arbitration process. In Ontario CUPE represents over 70,000 nurses, personal support workers, health care aides, paramedics, custodians and administrative staff at hospitals, long-term care facilities and other community health services.