McGuinty’s proposed “Protecting Public Services Act, 2012”

Last week, we published an analysis of the situation confronting teachers and all other educators in the Ontario elementary and secondary school systems, both public and Catholic. Bill 115, the Orwellian “Putting Students First Act” does the following:

  • eliminates collective bargaining rights for Ontario’s 180,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, support staff and other education workers
  • imposes a two-year wage freeze
  • places a 97-day delay on pay increments
  • imposes three unpaid Professional Activity days
  • cuts annual sick days to ten
  • ends the banking of unused sick days throughout a teacher’s career

As we further explained: “While the bill does not prevent strike votes from taking place, it provides the provincial cabinet the power to intervene to stop strikes from happening, even pre-emptively, without legislative approval. More draconian still, the new law revokes the ability of local bargaining units from freely negotiating contracts with their respective school boards.”

In the wake of Bill 115’s passage, Premier McGuinty’s Liberals released a draft of a proposed “Protecting Public Services Act”. The large 89-page proposed bill is dense and difficult to read. It can be downloaded in its entirety here.

As Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star explains, the proposed bill would extend many of the governmental powers found in Bill 115 to nearly 500,000 Ontario public sector workers, including workers in hospitals and universities. Walkom continues:

“[the proposed bill] would give the provincial cabinet wartime-style powers over public sector compensation for at least six years.

If approved by the legislature, the Protecting Public Services bill would allow the government to not just freeze the wages it pays to unionized employees — ranging from nurses to home care workers to hydro linemen — but roll them back.

It would give cabinet the power to scrap or modify salary grids — as it has already done with the province’s teachers. The government would also be able to unilaterally change or eliminate any non-wage benefits unionized public sector workers now receive.

And the bill would bar unions from either striking or appealing such decisions to the courts.

For essential services such as hospitals, where workers are already barred from striking, the bill would prevent contract arbitrators from basing their rulings on either the Canadian constitution or the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

Walkom’s analysis has been confirmed by a report released by the legal firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP. It focuses on Schedule 2 of the expansive act which carries another Orwellian name: the Respecting Collective Bargaining Act (Public Sector), 2012. The report’s introduction begins with the following passage:

“The Liberal Government has circulated draft legislation intended to implement what it describes as “compensation restraint” measures in the broader public sector. However, as currently drafted, the proposed Protecting Public Services Act, 2012 goes far beyond simply implementing a wage freeze for workers in the broader public sector; rather, it would give the Government unprecedented control over collective bargaining, the right to strike, interest arbitration (in the case of essential services), and the content of every term and condition of every collective agreement.”

It continues,

“Given these extraordinary powers, the proposed legislation and, in particular, Schedule 2: the Respecting Collective Bargaining Act (Public Sector), 2012, can only be described as a wholesale hijacking by Government of collective bargaining in the broader public sector. Although admittedly on a different scale, it is as if the Ontario Government has seized the kind of power over the economy and collective bargaining that has historically been reserved to a state of emergency or apprehended insurrection warranting invocation of the War Measures Act.

The proposed legislation also purports to do away with the ability of labour tribunals, arbitrators and the courts to review any part of the Minister’s virtually untrammelled authority to interfere with collective bargaining and the content of collective agreements.”

The introduction concludes on this point: “while purporting to respect collective bargaining (to quote the Orwellian pretence of its title), the Respecting Collective Bargaining Act (Public Sector), 2012 would actually eviscerate it.”

The proposed bill prompted a meeting of major Ontario union leaders under the umbrella of the Ontario Federation of Labour. Held on September 26, leaders of organized labour announced their intentions to combat such legislation. The OFL’s position is well-articulated by its president, Sid Ryan, in this interview with Steve Paikin on TVOntario:

The proposed bill has yet to be introduced to Queen’s Park. Whether or not it will be shelved or introduced by the Liberals or amended by the NDP or opposition Tories, is unknown. As the legal summary above notes, the Tories oppose the bill because it doesn’t go far enough. The Tories are seeking more aggressive austerity measures and the destruction of the post-war labour-capital settlement as proposed in their absurdly-titled and dubiously-researched “Paths to Prosperity” white paper.

The fate of this proposed bill may rest in the hands of the labour movement’s current response to the actually-existing Bill 115. If substantial popular pressure is brought to bear against Bill 115 – through student walkouts, joint community-labour protests, and effective, widespread job action in the schools – this may force McGuinty to back down on Bill 115 and this proposed bill as well. McGuinty, after all, only has a minority government. Such an approach may also serve to galvanize a wider and deeper opposition which appears necessary as the Hudak Tories continue to lead the polls and feed off of the anti-labour and deficit-fears stoked by the highly unpopular ruling Liberals.

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