Treasury Board responds after nurses hold information pickets against Bill 124 across Ontario
Last Friday, nurses and supporters from the Lanark County area gathered outside local MPP Randy Hillier’s constituency office to raise public awareness of what they call Bill 124’s gender-based wage discrimination.
The local Ontario Nurses Association Local Bargaining Unit said in a release ahead of the picket, “Bill 124, passed by the provincial government late last year, suppresses wage increases to a maximum of 1% of total compensation for three years for public-sector workers, including nurses and health-care professionals. This female-dominated profession has experienced suppressed wages for the last decade, while male-dominated public-sector workers have been largely exempt. This latest suppression of wages comes as a devastating and demoralizing blow at a time when nurses are on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Sebastian Skamski, Press Secretary for the President of the Treasury Board issued the following statement with the province’s viewpoint.
“First and foremost, we thank our heroic nurses who are delivering critical services that support all Ontarians.
Our government’s top priority is the health and safety of all Ontarians, and we are focused on our response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We are taking decisive action to ensure our heroic frontline workers are being recognized for their work through programs like pandemic pay.
At the same time, the government remains committed to protecting public sector jobs and the fiscal health of the province. Bill 124 is designed to protect public sector jobs and vital frontline services, which are essential in our fight against COVID-19. We believe this is a fair, consistent, and time-limited approach that will enable us to protect front line jobs and workers.
Of note, under this legislation, Ontario’s public sector employees will still be able to receive salary increases for seniority, performance, or increased qualifications as they do currently.
To be clear, this legislation applies to over one million people working in Ontario’s public sector, spanning numerous different sub-sectors. This legislation is universally applied across the Ontario Public Service (OPS) and the Broader Public Sector (BPS), including employees in schools, colleges, universities, the provincial government, hospitals, and provincial police. Any suggestion that it is discriminatory or targets any demographic group is totally baseless.
Nurses employed in the health care, long-term care, social services, and correctional sectors are part of the 375,000 employees that benefit from pandemic pay. Eligible employees will receive $4 per hour worked on top of their existing hourly wages, regardless of how much they already make. Additionally, eligible employees who work at least 100 hours in a designated 4-week period, will also be eligible to receive an additional lump sum payment of $250 for that period. For an average employee working a standard 40 hour work week, this represents an additional $3,560 on top of existing wages over a 16-week period. That being said, there is no limit or cap on the amount of hours that qualify for the $4 per hour bonus, meaning the additional compensation may be higher should individuals work more hours.”
Nurses across the province have been gathering to challenge this legislation and bring awareness to what they call “its disproportionate impacts on highly gendered professions, including nursing.”
The nurses say the legislation also curtails workers’ right to collective bargaining, free of interference, and forces individuals to accept wages that will not keep up with inflation.
They also note that a current Charter challenge is underway to challenge the discriminatory nature of this legislation.