OPS workers force Ontario government to recognize National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

After Canada’s Governor General proclaimed September 30 a federal holiday in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in 2021, the Ontario Government refused to recognize the holiday for Ontario Public Service (OPS) employees in 2022. It was a shameful move on the part of the Ford government, given that the time for solemn reflection on the history and legacy of Canada’s residential schools that this holiday provides was one of the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

OPSEU/SEFPO members from both OPS Unified and Correctional Bargaining Units mobilized members to file grievances. OPSEU/SEFPO also joined with four other unions representing OPS employees to file a formal policy dispute with the employer.

As a result of the members of five unions coming together to challenge the employer, the workers won the case at arbitration. Read the joint statement from all five unions below:

Arbitrator awards in favour of OPS employees for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Toronto, July 13, 2023 — A coalition of five bargaining agents representing members in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) won its dispute of the Ontario government’s refusal to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30) in 2022.

The arbitrator found in favour of the bargaining agents—ALOC (Association of Law Officers of the Crown), AMAPCEO (Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario), OCAA (Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association), OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union), and PEGO (Professional Engineers of the Government of Ontario)—ruling that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a “holiday” according to the provisions established in each of the bargaining agents’ respective collective agreements, and that it should have been granted as a paid holiday in 2022.

When the OPS Employer decided not to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in 2022 as it had in 2021, the bargaining agents first submitted a joint letter to the Secretary of Cabinet, and then filed a formal policy dispute with the OPS Employer.

The bargaining agents argued that their collective agreements entitled their respective members to statutory holidays and any other special holidays proclaimed by the Governor General or Lieutenant Governor.

Ultimately, the arbitrator found that the bargaining agents’ interpretation of the collective agreement was in keeping with the “plain and ordinary meaning” of the provision.

Barring a legal challenge (a request for a judicial review) by the OPS Employer, this finding will come into effect September 30, 2023, and become an annual paid holiday for OPS employees represented by the five bargaining agents. The arbitrator also directed the parties to negotiate a remedy for the ‘lost day’ in 2022.

The coalition of bargaining agents is pleased with the success of their joint fight to defend members’ collective agreements and to honour the truth and reconciliation process. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation offers a moment to reflect on the history and legacy of residential schools and colonial violence in Canada and to honour the lives lost. It is integral to preserve this day for reflection and education on the ongoing work of truth and reconciliation, in which all Canadians must take part.