Arbitrator nixes Ontario’s plans for wage freezes

Pay increase awarded to long-term care home workers, undermining province’s strategy for cost containment in public service.

By Karen Howlett and Carys Mills

Excerpt from: Globe and Mail, September 16, 2010

Full article at:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario/arbitrator-nixes-ontarios-plans-for-wage-freezes/article1711031/

The Ontario government’s attempts to rein in public sector spending were dealt a major setback after an arbitrator ruled it has no authority to impose wage freezes without taking the unpopular step of legislating them. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has urged Ontario’s one million public sector workers to take a two-year wage freeze to help restore the province’s financial health and protect its vital social services. But an arbitration case has called those restraint measures into question.

In a binding ruling released Thursday, arbitrator Norm Jesin awarded 17,000 workers in long-term care homes a 2-per-cent wage increase for this year. Labour leaders say the award could affect the outcome of talks for hundreds of thousands of workers in other sectors, including hospitals, public schools and universities. If other arbitrators respect this judgment, they say, Mr. Duncan could be forced to abandon his restraint measures.

“I think the government is going to have to reconsider the road they’re going down,” said Sharleen Stewart, SEIU president of Local 1 Canada, which represents the long-term care home workers. The award sets a standard that other arbitrators will follow, she said, adding that hospital workers are now in arbitration. The province has also been in a dispute with unions over whether workers in for-profit, long-term-care homes should be included in the wage freeze.

Mark Langer, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, said if staff of for-profit nursing homes are not part of the wage freeze, it raises questions about including university employees. The government no longer provides the majority of funding for universities, he noted …

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