Raises for hospital workers who fought Doug Ford’s wage cap

Hospital workers whose unions fought Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 124 wage restraint legislation — limiting them to raises of one per cent annually — have won pay hikes of 3.75 per cent for last year and 2.5 per cent this year.

The increases for 45,000 registered practical nurses, personal support workers, cooks, lab technicians and other occupations including dietary aides were awarded Tuesday by arbitrator William Kaplan.

While the raises are below the rate of inflation that peaked at eight per cent last year, “I think they’ll be well received,” said Michael Hurley of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

“They are some recognition of the contribution they made in the pandemic.”

Contracts for the workers in the Canadian Union of Public Employees and SEIU Healthcare expired in 2021 and their bargaining with hospitals resulted in the mandated maximum increases of one per cent. But they had also negotiated the right to reopen talks in the event Bill 124 was struck down as unconstitutional.

When that happened last November as a result of a court challenge, talks resumed — but later reached an impasse and the wage dispute went to binding arbitration in hearings last month.

Kaplan’s award is in addition to the one per cent wages the workers already received, the unions said. Registered practical nurses move up to a maximum hourly rate of $35.97, for example.

There are also what the unions called “long-deserved increases” to shift premiums, weekend premiums, callbacks, vision and massage therapy coverage. Being called back to work results in payment at double time.

The unions had sought wage increases of 8.5 per cent for 2022 and 11.8 per cent in 2023.

Ontario Hospital Association chief executive Anthony Dale said in a statement the ruling “recognizes the enormous value of front-line health-care workers.”

Hurley warned the ruling does not go far enough to “address a fundamental problem hospitals have, which is retaining the workforce” in a hospital system with 37,000 job vacancies and workers leaving because of heavy workloads and difficult working conditions.

But Dale said the pay increases, which are retroactive for current and former employees, should help.

“While there is no one single contributor or solution that will fundamentally address the deep-rooted and multi-faceted human resource challenges facing Ontario’s health-care system, we know that collective bargaining is an important part of a larger, comprehensive strategy to address these challenges.”

Kaplan noted members of the Power Workers’ Union at Ontario Power Generation got raises of 4.75 per cent in 2022 and 3.5 per cent for 2023, as did members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in a settlement reached in their recent strike against the federal government.

With the one per cent raises hospital workers already received, that puts them in the same territory, Kaplan said, noting “our job … is to replicate free collective bargaining.”

The award may have to be adjusted if the Ford government’s appeal of the Bill 124 ruling is successful, the arbitrator added.


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