TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government is unveiling legislation to freeze wages for nearly half-a-million public sector workers at hospitals, colleges, hydro companies and long-term care homes, but not police or firefighters.
The legislation essentially mirrors the bill the Liberals used to impose a wage contract on teachers earlier this month, freezing pay and benefits for two years but allowing some upward movement on salary grids.
All collective agreements will have to be submitted to the finance minister for approval, and the government could approve or reject the deals, or even impose its own contract on the two parties.
The bill will cover nearly 2,300 public sector union contracts until 2017, so that workers who just signed agreements with wage hikes will still be hit with a two-year freeze in their next contract.
Municipalities are exempt, which means the wage freeze will not apply to police, fire, ambulance, public transit or other local workers.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan unveiled the proposed wage freeze bill to the media today, but can’t introduce it in the legislature because of an ongoing debate over contempt, which blocks all other business in the house.
The government says it doesn’t need legislation to impose a wage freeze on doctors, and is still in negotiations with the Ontario Medical Association on their next contract.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has repeatedly warned that the Liberals were prepared to legislate a wage freeze if they can’t get it through collective bargaining to help eliminate a deficit projected at $14.8 billion this year.
The Ontario Federation of Labour is holding an emergency meeting today with other union leaders to talk about how to mobilize to challenge the wage freeze bill.
They say McGuinty is “aggressively interfering” in bargaining and violating the constitutional rights of workers, but the government points out it will not open up any existing contracts.
Several unions representing most of Ontario’s teachers say they’ll challenge the legislation, which also took away their right to strike for two years, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Liberals say they’re confident that their wage freeze bills will withstand court challenges.