NO! to Ontario Bill 195"> NO! to Ontario Bill 195">

Say NO! to Ontario Bill 195

On July 7 the government of Ontario introduced Bill 195, the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, to empower Cabinet to extend temporary orders issued during the COVID-19 state of emergency, once the emergency is lifted. The majority of orders issued override in one way or another the collective agreements of workers, especially front-line health care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes and so on. But the reach of the bill extends far beyond these workers, to include people working for boards of education, social services, water systems and sewage works and more.

Bill 195 passed second and third reading on July 21, then received Royal Assent the same day. The new law will come into force on a day to be proclaimed by the Cabinet. It is yet one more expression of the anti-social offensive that is destroying the social fabric of our society, just as Bill 124 enacted last year imposed a three-year wage freeze on all public sector employees in Ontario.

Bill 195 will formally end the state of emergency but allows the emergency orders issued under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) to be continued by decree of the Lieutenant Governor in Council (i.e. the provincial Cabinet). Whereas under the EMCPA emergency orders had to be re-approved every 14 days, under Bill 195 they can be renewed by Cabinet for 30-day periods, for up to one year, and the powers of the bill can be extended for a further year. Orders may also be amended to apply to additional persons or groups.

The bill also comes with harsh enforcement provisions, although it is unclear how they will be interpreted and implemented.

Information pickets sprang up almost immediately condemning this attack on workers' rights. Workers and their unions are discussing how to respond. Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU/CUPE), which represents 50,000 hospital workers, held press conferences in North Bay, Sudbury and elsewhere to inform and call on the public to stand with the workers against Bill 195. The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) has held two online information sessions engaging thousands of their members in discussion on the implications of Bill 195 for nurses and patients. Service Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU Healthcare), which represents 60,000 front-line workers in Ontario condemned Bill 195 as "a gift to the for-profit long-term care industry to override the collective agreement by enabling more shifts to newer, lower-paid workers."

Other union organizations like Unifor, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) have also strongly condemned the actions of the Ford government. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) described Bill 195 as an "undemocratic power grab" and called on Ontario MPPs to resist it.

"In essence, Bill 195 would give the Premier and Ministers the power to impose emergency orders that drastically curtail basic rights and freedoms without the need to engage in the legislative process or involve members of the Legislative Assembly," the CCLA said. It opposed the fact that the special powers "would last for at least a year and can be extended by the Legislative Assembly for a year at a time. Indefinitely. The powers governments have under emergency legislation are supposed to be exceptional -- Bill 195 would make the exercise of those powers the 'new normal.'"

The powers at the disposal of the Premier and the Cabinet under the EMCPA are considerable, including the power to issue orders deemed "necessary and essential in the circumstances to prevent, reduce or mitigate serious harm to persons." No information or assessment is provided as to whether the government in fact did anything "to prevent, reduce or mitigate serious harm to persons" or what precisely it has done and the consequences to the people of Ontario.

Most of the emergency orders issued under the current COVID-19 pandemic emergency state explicitly that despite the existence of any collective agreement, employers set staffing priorities and may unilaterally redeploy staff as required, change work schedules or shift assignments, cancel vacations, hire part-time, temporary or contractor labour and use volunteers to perform bargaining unit work. Grievance procedures are suspended for any matter referred to in the order.

This has no intention other than trampling underfoot the role the unions play on all these fronts. The fact that unions have cooperated every step of the way to make sure the population is protected is ignored as is the fact that it is the workers who know what is required at their places of work so that everyone is protected. There is no legitimate justification of any kind for these special powers.

It never was the case that the terms and conditions of work set out in collective agreements put anyone at risk of "serious harm." Health care professionals and workers from the outset have gone above and beyond the call of duty, put their lives on the line, to care for the sick and elderly. The working conditions of health professionals and workers are in fact the living conditions of the elderly and those in need of care in our society.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed what the workers have been saying all along, that privatization, cut backs in service, degradation of wages and working conditions of health care workers, hiring of casual, part-time labour, and the entire fend-for-oneself approach has caused serious harm to society. It has been an unmitigated disaster for our elderly in long-term care and generally left the population vulnerable. To override collective agreements during the pandemic state of emergency did nothing to "alleviate the risk" for anyone, least of all the health care workers or those receiving care. The fact that this is used to undermine the fight of unions to stop the deterioration of workers' conditions of employment and the ability to negotiate these is straightforward fraud, corruption, and abuse of power.

Every day of this pandemic, front-line workers have been fighting to keep themselves and the public safe. Workers must continue to speak out in defence of their rights, against this anti-social offensive and for a new human-centred direction for society. It is by laying the claim to what belongs to all by right that a "new normal" which serves society will be brought into being.

This article was published in

Number 50 - July 23, 2020

Article Link:
Say NO! to Ontario Bill 195 - Steve Rutchinski


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