About Bill 124 and Actions

Learn about Bill 124, ONA’s actions to date, and how we can support your actions.

In 2019, the Ford government introduced and passed Bill 124, wage-suppression legislation negatively impacting registered nurses, nurse practitioners, health-care professionals and other public-sector workers. This bill limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for each of three years.

As nurses and health-care professionals, we do our best to provide high-quality care to our patients, residents, and clients day in and day out. Our invaluable work has never been more apparent than during the pandemic and ongoing health-care staffing crisis. We deserve equity, fairness and respect.

All-Member Telephone Town Halls – September 28, 2022

As the two weeks of the Bill 124 court case come to a close, we invite ONA members to join telephone town halls for updates from our legal team. On Wednesday, September 28, we will hold two town hall sessions: at 5:30 p.m. EST (Regions 3 and 4) and at 7:30 p.m. EST (Regions 1, 2 and 5.)

Members will receive a call to join their region’s session. You must accept the call to be connected to the town hall. If you are not able to answer the phone, you will receive a voicemail with a phone number that you can call back to join the town hall.

The town halls will also be streamed via Facebook Audio Live on our members-only Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/onamembers.) If you are not already part of the group, please request access now, so you can tune in next week. You will need to join the group before you can listen in. The audio recording will remain posted in the group after the event.

We will develop a question-and-answer document after the town halls.

September 20, 2022: Update on ONA’s Bill 124 court presentation

ONA’s outlines clear evidence Bill 124 is unconstitutional

ONA and its 68,000 members’ days in court to present our evidence outlining why Bill 124 is unconstitutional took place on September 13 and 14.

Over the span of two days, ONA presented facts, affidavits, caselaw and supporting documentation – thousands of pages – in open court to Justice Koehnen of the Ontario Superior Court. It will be up to the Justice to rule whether Bill 124 contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also known as the Charter.

We argue Bill 124 is unconstitutional on two main grounds:

  • Bill 124 interferes in our members’ rights to freely collectively bargain.
  • Bill 124 is discriminatory as it discriminates and disproportionately impacts female-dominated professions.

ONA clearly outlines how Bill 124 greatly impedes collective bargaining

ONA’s legal team was Kate Hughes, Danielle Bisnar, and Janet Borowy.

Kate Hughes expertly and passionately summarized what she referred to as overwhelming evidence and a “smorgasbord” of how Bill 124 “substantially interferes” with collective bargaining, an infringement of the Charter. This included the following:

  • Because the Bill mandates total compensation of one per cent for each year of three years, there is no real ability to conduct “meaningful” collective bargaining.
  • Despite grave nursing shortages, ONA and employers could not deal with the critical issue of retention and recruitment bargaining. In fact, Hughes outlined, interest arbitrators also “had their hands tied” with the strict limits imposed by Bill 124. In particular, Arbitrator Stout could only award the one per cent to ONA hospital members.
  • Furthermore, bargaining under Bill 124 was completely different than the previous 17 rounds of central bargaining between these parties. With nothing to trade off due to the one per cent cap, the interest arbitrator was unable to meaningfully consider ONA members’ key priorities with respect to compensation, workplace health and safety and remedying sex and gender discrimination in its existing wage grids.
  • Registered nurses were outraged after the Stout award was issued awarding one per cent wage increase in the middle of the pandemic. Bill 124 causes nurses lose faith in the institution of collective bargaining.

All of this evidence showed substantial interference that undermined the process of meaningful collective bargaining protected by the Charter.

ONA evidence shows Bill 124 discriminatory against women

ONA set out a compelling case about how Bill 124 disproportionately impacts women:  79 per cent of all workers impacted by Bill 124 are women, 82.6 per cent of all health-care workers are women and, according to the College of Nurses, over 90 per cent of its regulated health-care professionals registered with the College are women.

Kate Hughes and Danielle Bisnar explained how ONA raised at the outset with government that the burden of Bill 124 would fall on women whereas physicians, firefighters and police, composed mostly of men, were excluded.

In response, the government asked for the data around the make-up of employees under the Bill and was advised that a vast majority, 79 per cent were women. Despite this, they failed to alter the design of the legislation to deal with this discriminatory treatment of ONA members on the grounds of sex.

ONA argued Bill 124 creates a discriminating distinction by having an overwhelming impact on women in two ways: by gutting collective bargaining rights and not allowing ONA to bargain on behalf of its predominantly female membership, like physicians, firefighters and police were permitted to do (as they were all exempt from bill 124) and, second, by reinforcing the pre-existing wage gap.

Because of the design of Bill 124, it has had a “disproportionate effect of suppressing nurses’ and other public sector women workers’ compensation, their ability to improve their working conditions through collective bargaining and to address changing conditions in their workplaces,” ONA’s Factum states.

ONA Counsel Danielle Bisnar carefully outlined how Bill 124 negatively and systematically impacts female-dominated professions. Most notably, Bisnar underscored that there is a significant gap between “gender-segregated professions and industries.” Police and firefighters – predominantly male occupations – have median incomes of more than $100,000 per year. Registered nurses – an overwhelmingly female occupation – earn a median of about $82,000 a year.

Bisnar went onto to state, “It undermines bargaining power of women and did this at a time when their bargaining power would otherwise have been high due to the demand for their labour due to the pre-existing shortage and COVID pandemic.”

Our Factum explains this further, “Bill 124 has disproportionately capped compensation increases at a time when market forces would have resulted in higher wages for nurses, and has prevented them from addressing changing working conditions in a pandemic as well as negotiating more full-time jobs with benefits, scheduling premiums designed to create safer workplaces, and provisions to deal with crippling workloads.”

ONA will continue to fight

ONA has argued vigorously and voiced the sentiments of our members that they deserve equal rights to engage in collective bargaining as their male counterparts. It was repeatedly emphasized that our members are educated and provide work of equal value to their male colleagues such as physicians, firefighters, and police, who were able to negotiate freely and without interference.

ONA argued that our members simply want to be treated equally, for the collective bargaining process to be respected, and for the government to stop interfering with the collective bargaining rights of our members.

ONA’s legal team has invested countless hours and time to amass the evidence on behalf of you, our membership, and will continue to fight against the grave injustice of Bill 124.

ONA and our labour partners who were also in court last week and this week believe that Bill 124 interferes with our members’ Charter right to freely bargain.

The province will start their case this week and ONA will have an opportunity to reply to the province’s arguments. The case will then be in the hands of Justice Koehnen to make a decision.

Our Charter Challenge

ONA believes the bill interferes with our members’ Charter right to freely bargain. The arbitrator who released the most recent hospital central collective agreement said that Bill 124 tied his hands with regard to monetary issues.

The bill has demoralized nurses and health-care professionals, and exacerbated the Ontario’s nursing crisis as these skilled and vital workers are forced to find better opportunities outside province or leave their professions entirely.

We are also concerned about the gender discrimination inherent in Bill 124 as it applies to largely female-dominated professions, while male-dominated professions including police and fire fighters are exempt.

ONA and other labour unions launched their Charter challenge against Bill 124 in 2019 (more here). ONA submitted extensive evidence supporting our arguments for why Bill 124 violates the Charter, including from our front-line members.

ONA’s and other unions’ Bill 124 constitutional challenge starts Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, and runs every day for two weeks through to Friday, Sept. 23.

What is a Charter challenge?

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) protects basic rights and freedoms that are essential to keeping Canada a free and democratic society…The Charter ensures that the government, or anyone acting on its behalf, doesn’t take away or interfere with these rights or freedoms in an unreasonable way…The Charter allows individuals to challenge government actions that are believed to violate rights or freedoms. In the past, these challenges have set legal precedents and also inspired significant changes to federal, provincial and territorial laws.” More here.

Can’t we just wait for Bill 124 to expire?

ONA is challenging Bill 124 in court to defend members’ right to freely bargain. ONA has negotiated reopener provisions in collective agreements that will allow us to go back and renegotiate for retroactive wage increases – but this will only be the case if Bill 124 is repealed by the government or deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

When and where is this hearing happening?

The hearing will start Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Toronto at 10 a.m. (EST) The hearing will run every day for two weeks through to Friday, Sept. 23. This Charter challenge involves multiple parties with ONA playing a leading role.

With respect to the order of appearances, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) argues first on Monday and are expected to take most of the first day.

ONA’s legal team is scheduled to present our argument on Tuesday, Sept. 13. However, please note that ONA could start our argument earlier on Monday afternoon, if the OFL finishes early or if requested by the attending judge.

Other labour unions will follow ONA. The teachers’ unions are scheduled to appear Wednesday, Sept. 14. Unifor and OPSEU argue on Thursday, Sept. 15 and the electricity sector unions on Friday, Sept. 16.

The Province starts their case no later than noon on Tuesday, Sept. 20 but may start earlier as directed by the judge. ONA will have an opportunity to reply to the Province’s arguments no later than Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Can I watch the proceedings?

The courtroom is open to the public and the Court has provided a Zoom link for members to watch virtually – but there is a limit on the number of people who can register.

Location: Courtroom 8-1 at 330 University Avenue, Toronto, ON.

Zoom Registration: https://ca01web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_aGrc8nopTOKUJJPgWze4Ew

As ONA undertakes this Charter challenge case, we continue to call on the government to REPEAL BILL 124.

Read our media release:

ONA President Cathryn Hoy joined a media conference to launch the constitutional challenge on Monday, September 12, 2022. The event, organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour, featured speakers from unions who were also impacted by the law, and are challenging it in court. Watch a clip from this event below.

ONA’s actions, so far

We are deeply disappointed with the passage of Bill 124 and were swift to act and get our message out to members, the public and the government.

ONA has discussed the issues at length with media across the province. ONA media releases, which have been picked up by many major media outlets, are also shared on social media.

ONA has never stopped lobbying the government, participating in multiple meetings and consultations, and meeting directly with the President of the Treasury Board to express our members’ deep concerns with Bill 124.

In the 2022 provincial election, members across the province made Bill 124 an election issue and made three out of four major parties commit to repealing the bill if elected. Though Premier Doug Ford was re-elected with a majority government, most Ontarians across the province voted for a political party that wanted to repeal Bill 124 and address the health-care staffing crisis.

Premier Doug Ford has since been quoted several times, committing to give public sector works a wage increase of more than 1 per cent. Our pressure is working, but members must continue to push the government to fully repeal Bill 124.

Now more than ever, we deserve recognition and reward. A fair and respectful wage increase is long overdue.

Our provincial government has called registered nurses, nurse practitioners and health-care professionals heroes. It is time for this government to show that they consider us heroes. They need to act and repeal Bill 124 now!

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