bill 124 update

Ontario court just declared one of Doug Ford's moves 'unconstitutional'

In what amounts to a monumentous victory for hard-working Ontario nurses and a huge black eye for the Doug Ford administration, a Superior Court Judge has ruled that a 2019 bill capping public sector wages was "unconstitutional."

Bill 124, a piece of legislation passed (to much resistance) in 2019, was meant to curb provincial spending for three years by prohibiting annual pay raises of more than one per cent for most public sector workers in Ontario, including teachers, university faculty, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

While never pleased with the wage restraint legislation, labour groups started calling upon the province to repeal it with more urgency after the onset of a global health crisis and subsequent mass exodus of registered nurses from Ontario.

As it turns out, in the eyes of the court, Bill 124 should never have been passed in the first place. 

"I declare the act to be void and of no effect," wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Markus Koehnen in an 80-page decision released Tuesday, agreeing with the arguments of unions who had been contending for years that the wage cap was unconstiutional.

"On my view of the evidence, Ontario was not facing a situation in 2019 that justified an infringement on Charter rights," said Kohenen. "In addition, unlike other cases that have upheld wage restraint legislation, Bill 124 sets the wage cap at a rate below which employees were obtaining in free collective bargaining negotiations."

 Needless to say, the some 780,000 Ontario Public Service employees impacted by the legislation are pleased with Judge Koehnen's ruling.

"Today's decision affirms what we have known all along - Bill 124 is a blatant attack on fundamental trade union rights,” said Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour in a news release issued after the ruling today.

"That is why the Ontario Federation of Labour, as part of a coalition of over 70 unions, launched this Charter challenge."

The Ontario Nurses Assosciation is similarly satisfied, writing in a news release of its own on Tuesday that it will be sure to demand that the Ford government to accept the court's decision.

"ONA and its members are celebrating this hard-fought win. This is a vindication of the rights of nurses, and public-sector workers across the province," said ONA Interim Provincial President Bernie Robinson.

"ONA's position from the start was that this bill interfered with the Charter rights of nurses and health-care professionals to freely negotiate a collective agreement. We are ecstatic that the courts agree."

While a court has struck down the law as unconstitutional, the Ford government has yet to actually repeal Bill 124. It may furthermore decide to appeal the ruling, which would only stoke further division and animosity between the province and its employees.

The provincial government has yet to respond publicly to the ruling, but many online are preemptively encouraging Ford and company to do what they consider to be the right thing.

"The court found that Bill 124 had a severe impact on workers'’ living standards and a devastating impact on the ability of employees to exercise their constitutionally protected right to bargain collectively in order to improve their compensation and working conditions," said the OFL's Coates.

"Given the thoroughness of the court's reasons, we expect that the government and public sector employers will now take swift action to redress the severe harms that continue to be caused by Bill 124."

"We have a message for the Ford government," said CUPE Ontario similarly on Tuesday via Twitter. "Your bill legislated pay cuts for millions of workers. This is the time to make amends. This is the time for redress."

Lead photo by

Premier of Ontario Photography

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