Short-Sighted Bill 124 Will Lead to More Short-Staffing
One percent wage cap is a disastrous policy for the long term care sector
Michael Reid, Ontario Healthcare Coordinator
Last fall, the Ontario government introduced wage restraint legislation through Bill 124. The intent is to moderate wage increases in the broader public sector to no more than one percent per year for the next three years. Bill 124 is retroactive to June 5—the date it was announced.
During a consultation stage earlier in the spring, CLAC urged the government not to implement this legislation for healthcare workers in the long term care (LTC) sector. It is our view that workers in LTC have shouldered a heavy burden already in recent years. When adjusted for inflation, wages in LTC have declined by more than six percent in the last ten years.
Perplexingly, Bill 124’s wage restraint does not apply to nursing homes operated by municipalities and for-profit LTC employers. As result, the one percent annual cap only applies to twenty-four percent of collective agreements for homes defined as nonprofit.
Wage increases in LTC are largely established through pattern bargaining. It is entirely likely then that while wages for municipal and for-profit homes are increased, the wages for workers in nonprofit homes will be less than the rest of the industry. Government funding for nursing home operators tend to increase equally, such that municipal for-profit and nonprofit homes all experience comparable increases each year to their operation funding. It is hard to imagine that a wage restraint can amount to any sort of real or significant savings then when only affecting wages of one type of nursing home.
But a one percent wage cap will have a cost. Many contracts that might have settled in bargaining will now go to arbitration as unions find themselves unable to voluntarily agree to unfair and unreasonable limits on already low wages. In addition, wage constraints of any kind will only continue to make it harder to attract and retain workers in the long term care sector.
A worker shortage is already a real and present issue in LTC. RN and RPN positions often remain unfilled in many homes. PSWs are so scarce that many homes are chronically and dangerously short-staffed. Recently, a ministry inspector concluded that two deaths in a municipal home in Walkerton were partially caused by too few PSWs on duty.
While a one percent wage cap may have a low impact on government bureaucracies that are flush with workers, it is a disastrous policy for the long term care sector. Several worker groups have signalled that they are considering legal action against the government, arguing that wage restraint laws amount to bargaining in bad faith and are a violation of their right to collective bargaining. We will be closely monitoring those challenges.
CLAC has scheduled a meeting with the minister of long term care where we will again argue that our members and their workplaces are experiencing real crises and cannot afford more wage freezes. In the meantime, we will also challenge the legitimacy—and wisdom—of bill 124 through interest arbitration and ask arbitrators to simply set aside the wage restraint.
We will keep you informed on progress on this important issue in the coming months. Stay tuned.