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Why do unions and healthcare workers want to repeal C124?

Unifor Health Care workers rally across Ontario against C124
Over 20 Unifor locals are mobilizing across the province to persuade the Queen’s Park to repeal bill C124.

DRYDEN – Over 20 Unifor locals are mobilizing across the province to persuade the Queen’s Park to repeal bill C124.

At the start of the pandemic in 2019, Doug Ford’s Conservatives evaluated the overall cost COVID-19 would have on the province’s healthcare sector. The result was Bill C124: Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act.

Writing into Bill 124, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and healthcare professionals would have their wages suppressed to one per cent of total compensation for three years. In addition to the one per cent increase in wages, workers’ benefits were also impacted by this Bill.

Bill 124 applies to most of the Ontario government and provincially-funded public corporations and agencies, except for municipalities and municipal boards, Indigenous communities, police services and for-profit entities (unless exempt by regulation). The law covers more than one million people and the three-year periods vary in timing based on different sectors and when collective agreements end.

Katrina Peterson, Unifor Local 324 President, stated, "healthcare workers have given 110 per cent for over two years battling to save lives during this pandemic and as a reward, they have received a 1 per cent cap on their wages and benefits. This situation has been exasperated by skyrocketing 6 to 7 per cent inflation rates that have eaten away at real wages of health care workers." Peterson added, "This government cannot understand why workers are leaving in groves. Health care workers are mentally and physically drained, facing long hours in short-staffed facilities, and frustration is growing as there appears to be no end in sight." 

For the past three years, health care professionals have worked on the frontline risking their health and mental well-being to ensure the public’s safety. As a result, many professionals in the healthcare sector feel worn out and frustrated over the stagnant wages, so much so that some healthcare workers are looking for better-paying jobs outside their line of work.

Peterson also explains that the low increase in wages and benefits “affects recruiting and retention of workers in the health care field.”   

In a survey conducted by Service Employees International Union Healthcare, the results show that a 50 per cent of all members surveyed would leave and seek employment outside of Ontario's hospitals in pursuit of higher wages if a contract adhered to Doug Ford's anti-worker wage restraint legislation, formally known as Bill 124.

Now that Doug Ford’s Conservative party is boasting that Ontario is open for business and the public is settling back into a post-cOVID existence, there is no talk from the Conservatives about repealing the Bill.  

Steven Dul Duca’s Liberal Party plans to scrap the wage-capping Bill 124 and introduce a minimum wage of $25 an hour for Personal Support Workers. In contrast, Andrea Horwath’s NDP plans to keep salaries down below inflation.

“I’m determined to make sure that a job in Ontario is a job that actually pays the bills. From paid sick days to helping more people get the better pay and benefits that come with a union representing them, we can fix what’s broken and help all workers build their best life, said Horwath.

Depending on how June’s election results, the Ontario health care sector will be highly impacted in one way or another.

For now, Unifor Local 324 President Katrina Peterson wants to make sure the public is fully aware of what is at stake,” our rallies are more geared to repealing Bill 124 regarding the 1 per cent wage cap. But it was also to bring awareness to the retention and recruiting of healthcare workers and long-term care issues, including increasing hands-on care for residents and putting an end to the privatization of long-term care homes. Healthcare workers have sacrificed their health through this pandemic, giving 110 per cent. They have had their bargaining agreements superseded by government orders, allowing employers to limit vacations and change their schedules and work assignments at any given time. The one thing our government can do is show them respect by repealing Bill 124. 

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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