Since the beginning of the pandemic, workers on the frontlines of Ontario public services, including healthcare, education and social services have put their own health and safety at risk to make sure the people of Ontario get the services they need.
One thing we’ve learned since 2020 when COVID-19 hit our province, many of these sectors face severe staffing shortages, putting the services we depend on at risk. The pandemic also forced a spotlight on the working conditions of many of these jobs. Staff like nurses, PSWs and social service workers, who get up early every morning, put on their scrubs, work boots, PPE and uniforms, often face life and death situations.
If we think we have a crisis in these sectors, I have news for you, the worst is yet to come.
Ontario’s Bill 124 is a direct attack on the workers who kept our public services running through the pandemic. It will hurt our province’s ability to fill crucial frontline positions in healthcare from the emergency room to the long-term care home to the frontline staff who keep our hospitals clean and change the bedsheets of patients.
Why are these services at risk? It’s because Bill 124 freezes almost all public salary increases at one per cent. You don’t have to be a Bay Street lawyer to know, this is a huge violation of Charter and bargaining rights enshrined in constitutional law. And you don’t have to be a management consultant to figure out when you squeeze frontline staff’s pocketbooks, they’re going to look for better pay and working conditions somewhere else.
With inflation at record levels, this one per cent cap will hurt workers even more. People are already struggling to keep up with rising grocery, housing and gas prices. As a result what we take home each pay cheque isn’t going as far as it used to.
Don’t get me wrong, the workers and members I speak to, don’t want a handout. They just want the ability to bargain to get a fair deal. The best deals are worked out between labour and management, this Bill stops those conversations from even happening.
Let’s not just look at the short-term and take a look at the future. Ontario can only suppress these wages on the frontline for so long. What’s going to happen after years of an essential pay freeze on public servants and when this unconstitutional Bill eventually gets repealed? The province will need to play catch up on wages and face tough negotiations at the bargaining table.
Ontario has made some smart moves, like the pandemic danger pay, raising the minimum wage and working to retrain workers affected by job losses. They should make the smart move with Bill 124 and immediately repeal it.