Ontario hospital nurses awarded additional pay after Bill 124 struck down
TORONTO — Ontario hospital nurses should get retroactive pay for three years during which they were subject to a wage restraint law that has since been ruled unconstitutional, arbitrators have ruled.
The 2019 law, known as Bill 124, capped wage increases for the nurses and other public sector workers at one per cent a year for three years.
It was ruled unconstitutional in November and though the government is appealing that, the Ontario Nurses' Association sought retroactive pay through an arbitrator, since the contracts were subject to be reopened if Bill 124 was repealed or declared invalid.
Arbitrators have now awarded the nurses an additional 0.75 per cent wage increase for the year starting April 1, 2020, an additional one per cent for the following year and an additional two per cent for the final year.
The first two years are dealt with in one arbitration decision and the third year in another, and in the latter decision the arbitrator writes that the "indisputable staffing crises in nursing" were factors.
"Recruitment and retention are critical considerations that we cannot ignore in rendering our award," the arbitrator wrote.
"In our view, in all the circumstances, including having regard to inflation and the market forces impacting nurses in particular, and the need to recruit and retain nurses in Ontario's hospitals, we find it appropriate to grant the Association's proposal for a 3 per cent general wage increase (i.e., an additional 2 per cent above what this board has already ordered), retroactive to April 1, 2022."
Hospitals had been urging 0.75 per cent for each year, but the arbitrators said that would not be sufficient.
"Such an increase would not have addressed the staffing crisis or reflected the demand that existed for nurses outside of the artificial constraints of Bill 124, even at that time," the arbitrator wrote.
The nurses' association says, however, that those amounts still don't reflect the value of registered nurses, and won't be enough to address staff shortages in the profession.
"The retroactive wage adjustments from these recent decisions are simply too little, too late to address the significant health-care staffing shortages that are hurting patient care," interim president Bernie Robinson wrote in a statement.
"They utterly fail to address the relentless decay in working conditions for a workforce that has been on the front lines for Ontarians throughout a deadly pandemic, nor do they do anything to address existing gender inequity."
One of the arbitration awards also condenses the wage grid between eight years and 25.
Anthony Dale, the president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said hospitals recognize the "enormous value of nurses and other frontline health care workers."
"While there is no one single contributor or solution that will fundamentally address the deep-rooted and multi-faceted health 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," he said in a statement.
Arbitration is set to be held over two days next week for the hospital nurses' next contract.
ONA members working in the charitable homes sector have also been awarded an additional 0.75 per cent in each of the three years, the union said.
Earlier this year, paramedics at Ornge were awarded an additional one per cent each year for three years following the Bill 124 ruling.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press