Workers Speak Out

Union Press Conference Demands Withdrawal of Ontario Bill 195

Nurses demand the repeal of Bill 124, which imposed a three-year wage freeze on all public sector workers in Ontario.

On July 21, Michael Hurley, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees' Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) and Steven Barrett, a labour lawyer with Goldblatt Partners addressed a press conference called to highlight the impact of Bill 195 on hospital workers' rights and to demand that the bill be withdrawn. The excerpts below are taken from the remarks Hurley made in response to questions from the media, including Workers' Forum, about the impact of the bill and the union's determination to force the government to withdraw the bill through the workers' mass struggle.

"This bill gives employers across the health care sector the right to act unilaterally. An employer does not have to pay any attention to the collective agreements that are in place. It can move you from your job to another job, from the shift you are on to another shift. It can lay you off without notice. It could bring in someone else to do your work from outside. It could contract [out] that work. It could cancel all leaves and vacations and of course one of the significant things is it can do all that whether it has COVID cases or not. All of the health care employers are empowered under this legislation to operate without regarding the rights that exist in the contract even though most hospitals and most long-term care facilities in Ontario have no COVID cases. And this continues for a period of a year [and is] renewable -- could be two years, could be three years. What we have said to the government is 'Look, if you have another outbreak of COVID, or Ebola or typhoid, you've got to believe that, as we were in March, we are going to be flexible. But setting permanent suspension of our rights is not acceptable.'

"We have to take into account the price the workforce has paid already in terms of the failure of the provincial government to provide them with adequate protection. This is the case and, to put it in context worldwide, the rate of infection of health care workers' cases relative to public cases of COVID is about six per cent worldwide versus 17.4 per cent in Ontario, which is about three times greater. Despite that, people have gone to work, and they have provided care and they have put themselves at risk and they have been quite appropriately applauded for that -- and they can be trusted, they can be counted on. We are asking the government to trust them, to trust that if there is another outbreak they will come through for people as they did before.

"There will be a legal challenge against the bill. But we are hoping to get the government to move before this gets to court. We are going to do our best to achieve that.

"We are going to be organizing, and we won't be alone. We hope to do it with other unions, regional rallies that respect social distancing and provincial demonstrations. We have the support of the Federation of Labour and of the labour councils in Ontario. We are going to be asking people to help us to pressure the government, to support our email and other efforts on social media to distribute our message and to participate in all of our protests. I am really hopeful that together we can be very effective."

On behalf of the law firm Goldblatt Partners, Steven Barrett explained OCHU/CUPE's two-fold legal argument for the withdrawal of Bill 195. First, the bill violates several Supreme Court of Canada rulings which uphold the right to collective bargaining on the basis of the Charter right of association. He added that the fact that Bill 195 explicitly says that the COVID-19 emergency is over deprives the government of the legal argument to invoke the emergency to justify violating collective bargaining rights. Secondly, Bill 195 follows Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019that the government enacted in 2019, prior to the pandemic, which limits compensation increases for public sector workers to one per cent per year for a three-year period. One of the realities that COVID-19 has made even clearer than before, Barrett said, is the fact that the CUPE workers that OCHU represents are paid too little. Yet Bill 124 prevents them, for a three-year period, from negotiating appropriate compensation that recognizes the essential critical nature of the services they provide, before and during the pandemic. He said that Bill 195 compounds the unconstitutional attack that started with Bill 124.

This article was published in

Number 50 - July 23, 2020

Article Link:
Workers Speak Out: Union Press Conference Demands Withdrawal of Ontario Bill 195


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