Wednesday 24 September 1997
Public Sector Transition Stability Act, 1997, Bill 136, Mrs Witmer / Loi de 1997 visant à assurer la stabilité au cours de la transition dans le secteur public, projet de loi 136, Mme Witmer
Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Ms Judith Andrew
Equal Pay Coalition; Ontario Federation of Labour
Ms Mary Cornish
Ms Heather McGregor
Ms Ethel Lavalley
Ontario Hospital Association
Mr David MacKinnon
Mr Murray McKenzie
Ms Gail Paech
Ontario Nurses' Association
Ms Barb Wahl
Mr Seppo Nousiainen
Ms Lesley Bell
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Mr Sid Ryan
Ms Judy Darcy
Amalgamated Transit Union, Canadian Council
Mr Tom Parkin
Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association
Mr Marshall Jarvis
Mr Claire Ross
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation
Mr Earl Manners
Mr Jim McQueen
Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto and York Region
Ms Linda Torney
Employment Standards Work Group
Ms Shelley Gordon
Ms Consuelo Rubio for Ms Rosario Fuentes
Police Association of Ontario
Mr Bill Baxter
Mr Brian Adkin
Mr Paul Walter
Ontario Public Service Employees Union
Ms Leah Casselman
Kenaidan Contracting Ltd; Ontario General Contractors Association
Mr David McDonald
Mr Don Cameron
Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario
Mr Mike Failes
Ms Susan Arab
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Présidente
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent L)
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock PC)
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East / -Est PC)
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford PC)
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre / -Centre PC)
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre / -Centre L)
Mr Bruce Smith (Middlesex PC)
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South / -Sud PC)
Clerk pro tem / Greffier par intérim
Mr Doug Arnott
Staff / Personnel
Mr Ray McLellan and Mr Avrum Fenson, research officers, Legislative Research Service
PUBLIC SECTOR TRANSITION STABILITY ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 VISANT À ASSURER LA STABILITÉ AU COURS DE LA TRANSITION DANS LE SECTEUR PUBLIC
Bill 136, An Act to provide for the expeditious resolution of disputes during collective bargaining in certain sectors and to facilitate collective bargaining following restructuring in the public sector and to make certain amendments to the Employment Standards Act and the Pay Equity Act / Projet de loi 136, Loi prévoyant le règlement rapide des différends lors des négociations collectives dans certains secteurs, facilitant les négociations collectives à la suite de la restructuration dans le secteur public et apportant certaines modifications à la Loi sur les normes d'emploi et à la Loi sur l'équité salariale.
The Chair (Ms Brenda Elliott): Good morning, colleagues. Welcome to the standing committee on resources development. We look forward to our day of receiving deputants commenting on Bill 136, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Given that we may have some blank spots, usually in other hearings what we've done, if people have called, is that we suggest there may be a chance they get on if people don't show up. We might be able to generally say that and then the clerk has an opportunity to talk to people who may fill in for others who didn't show up at the last minute. Can we abide by that same procedure?
The Chair: Any comments by other members of the committee on that thought?
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): I think that the procedure for filling blank spots is usually left to the Chair and the clerk to decide. That's fine with me.
The Chair: With your advice, we'll make every effort to fill all the spots available.
CANADIAN FEDERATION OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS
The Chair: Colleagues, our first deputants this morning are representatives from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Good morning, and welcome. Please introduce yourselves for Hansard. As you know, you have 30 minutes for your presentation. You may choose to use all that time for presentation or allow time for questions and answers.
Ms Judith Andrew: Good morning. I'm Judith Andrew, the executive director of provincial policy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. I'm joined by my colleague, Brien Gray, who is CFIB senior vice-president, legislation and policy. I have provided kits this morning. You will find in your kits a copy of CFIB's statements, as well as a small business primer which has some interesting facts and figures relating to the small business sector, which we represent. The third piece in that kit has a number of CFIB member votes that are pertinent to the subject today and relate directly to our statements.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear today. We appreciate the opportunity to represent CFIB's 40,000 small and medium-sized members before this committee on Bill 136. If it pleases the committee I would like to read our statement into the record.
The Ontario government retreat on Bill 136 is very much in keeping with the usual result of negotiations in the public sector. As is often the case, the interests of the bargaining parties -- the public sector unions and the employer-government -- have been served in this endeavour at the expense of the general public. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, on behalf of our 40,000 Ontario member independent businesses, is very concerned that the government bowed to the threats of illegal strike action by the public sector unions, and has agreed to remove or change all the provisions that offended them.
We find it astonishing and disheartening that there are still rumblings coming forth from the labour movement about holding the general public to ransom with illegal strike action, despite the unions apparently having got everything they asked for in the legislation. We are not privy to the details of the amendments to be proposed, but from the information which has been reported, we are concerned that the primary objective of Bill 136, to facilitate a timely, fair and orderly transition to improve public services in hospitals, schools and municipalities across Ontario, will be forfeited.
It is crucial that whatever remains of the legislation must do the job of ensuring that the restructuring proceeds smoothly with no service disruption. Safeguards must be in place to allow both union and non-union employees to be treated evenhandedly in this process. Small business owners understand and support the need for re-engineering our public services in Ontario. Like all Ontarians, they cannot condone leaving our grandchildren the legacy of our recent debt accumulation through deficit spending.
With the province's own-purpose debt having surpassed $100 billion and the annual deficit still over $6 billion, there is no question in the owner-manager's mind that we need to find ways of providing better-quality services at less cost to taxpayers. In survey after survey, our small business members have identified total tax burden and government deficit-debt reduction as the primary issues requiring attention.
The onerous burden of the present load of taxes and the prospect of future increases associated with retiring the debt are real obstacles to the small business job creators in the province. As the sector that also shoulders an unfair local tax burden, double on average what residents pay for properties of the same value, small businesses are acutely aware that an overhaul is needed to ensure spending accountability at the local level.
CFIB members have repeatedly voted to rationalize Ontario's public services in order to lower the tax load to a reasonable level. Our September 1993 mandate survey found 73% of CFIB's Ontario members in favour of reducing the system of two-tiered local governments to one tier. This finding was reconfirmed in our 1995 property tax survey, with 78% of respondents in favour. In our February 1993 mandate question, some 72% of Ontario business respondents supported eliminating elected school boards altogether.
CFIB is disappointed that the government's amendments to Bill 136 remove the proposed restrictions on the right to strike and apply the first-contract provisions of the Labour Relations Act. Apparently, this change was made on the clear understanding that the unions would not abuse their strike privileges during the transition period. Accordingly, we call on the public sector unions to fulfil their commitments that the retention of the right to strike will not jeopardize public services or create instability. CFIB also recommends that a public interest test apply during the first-contract negotiations.
To be clear, our small business members stand overwhelmingly against there being a right to strike in the public sector, for some very valid reasons. Unlike the situation in a private sector negotiation, where the pressure of a strike is directly on the bargaining parties, the impact of a strike in the public sector falls mainly on the general public. Given that public services are monopolies by definition, public sector strikes leave taxpayers with no options. Strikes in the public sector also impact on the most vulnerable members of society, those who need the public services.
The elimination of the proposed Disputes Resolution Commission and the return to the current legislative provision governing the appointment of arbitrators is also a major disappointment. At the very least, interest arbitrators must be required to consider such factors as ability to pay. As recently as September 1995, CFIB members voted strongly, 84%, in favour of replacing the right to strike in the public sector with a system of arbitration of settlements according to criteria which limit the amount of those settlements.
We would be pleased to respond to the committee's questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us with about six minutes per caucus. We'll begin with questioning from the official opposition.
Mr Patten: Good morning, and welcome to these hearings. The first thing I must say is that I have great respect for the small business sector, which, as you point out in your presentation, is really one of the key job creators, if not the chief job creator in our province and in our country. However, I want to pick up on a few points you made, Judith.
You start off by saying, "We are not privy to the details of the amendments to be proposed." Coming from a business background, I'm sure you'll appreciate why we felt it was important, with amendments from the government that drastically change and alter the substance of the bill, almost flip-flop the bill really, that those amendments should be on the table and should be available to witnesses such as you in order to see what has been proposed. Some of the points you make, the government has said they've addressed, but we don't know yet.
You might not share our scepticism that when we finally see the amendments at the end of the day, after the hearings -- we only have one hour to respond, if you can imagine that. We wonder why they would wait so long. We suspect it's because they're not as bright and shiny and sparkling as they say they are. We'll see what happens at the end of the day. It makes it difficult, in a sense, for you to respond to this.
A couple of points: You said you agreed with one point, which isn't related to this piece of legislation. Your position supported eliminating elected school boards altogether. Frankly, I think that's effectively what has happened. If you look at the role of the school boards now and the lack of ability to tax, which they had before, whether you agree or disagree, if you look at the powers they have now, they're so confined that it's totally controlled by the provincial government.
If you look at those who are coming forward now to put their name forth to be a trustee, I know in the Ottawa-Carleton area we have a big problem. Only two or three of about 12 or 13 incumbents are coming forward to even stand as a trustee. I would submit to you that it has been so emasculated that it's questionable whether it's effective.
You also say you're disappointed about the right to strike that applies to the first contract. The government has dealt with that, they say. It's interesting to note that they said that was not in the legislation, the right to strike, and now of course they're talking about removing the proposed right to strike to apply to first contracts.
Likewise on the public test: What would you call a fair public test to apply to first contracts?
Ms Andrew: I'd like to address some of the other things you mentioned, but to get to the public interest test, the thrust of our statement is that the collective bargaining system, as it works in the public sector, between the employer-government and the public sector unions, is a very different animal than in the private sector. The public interest is something that has to be foremost in people's minds as they deal with this.
This is not a question of a dispute in a private company, where if people go on strike both the employer and the workers are feeling it and it pushes them towards a resolution. In the public sector, the impact is on the parties outside. Vulnerable members of society, certainly small business as job creators in the general public, also feel these issues. A public interest test -- we haven't worked out wording -- needs to be a very strong element in terms of how the government sets out the rules around solving disputes in labour relations in the public sector.
Just quickly on some of the other things you mentioned, you indicated that you thought the elected school boards were eliminated altogether. If that is the case, and I'm not certain it is --
Mr Patten: No, not eliminated all together. I'm just saying reduced and --
Ms Andrew: Well, that they're emasculated in terms of de facto not being able to do things. That would be in line with our members' views. Our members felt they should be eliminated.
Mr Patten: Too bad.
Ms Andrew: On the issue of temporary suspension of the right to strike, as you can see, our members would have that done on more than a temporary basis. They think there should be other ways of solving labour relations issues in the public sector, other than holding the public to ransom.
Mr Patten: Just a little comment on the educational part: I find it somewhat strange, because I know most, if not all, of your members are highly entrepreneurial and very highly value local participation and a degree of local control. I would resubmit to you that this goes completely the other way in terms of big government, centralization of your educational system, with a reduction in participation. Although the government says it will have these parent councils, the parent councils are saying: "We don't want to be responsible for some of these things. We don't mind helping out in the school and providing advice and this sort of thing."
I find it kind of counter: The small business sector especially, I think, has an appreciation of the micro-industries and the role they play in their local community and this kind of thing.
Anyway, my last question is on the Dispute Resolution Commission. You said, "The return to the current legislative provision governing the appointment of arbitrators is also a major disappointment." I'd like to ask you why. The Dispute Resolution Commission really was set up to deal with those in essential services. You know they didn't have a right to strike, number one. Second, we're talking about police, firefighters, nurses, workers in hospitals, this kind of thing. The only mechanism they had for any kind of participation in the process was that if the process in collective bargaining reached the point where it required arbitration, the employer and the employee would mutually agree on the selection of an arbitrator. Big deal. That's all they've got. It's the only thing they had. Their noses were out of joint, believe me, when they saw -- how many times do you see firefighters or police going on strike? They don't want to. They usually carry out and assume their responsibility. Their history I think would show that. So I would be curious why you say your association would be disappointed with that.
Ms Andrew: I think it's been fairly clear that over the years the community of arbitrators is a group of people who are thinking not only of the current arbitration they have in hand, but the one that might come next. There wasn't very much consideration given by those people to the impact on taxpayers, of which small businesses are a big part. To segue to the other comment you made, that you're surprised our members wouldn't take a different position because they're community-minded people, indeed they are community-minded people but the issue, in terms of local government, is they've had the short end of the stick on the tax front.
You talk about local accountability. Small businesses certainly don't carry the votes residents carry, which is why you get local governments deciding to increase their spending and offload the cost of that on to the local business taxpayer in what is a very shortsighted move that will result in those small businesses not being able to create the jobs for the community people that they might have otherwise been able to do if they weren't shouldering such an unfair burden of local taxes. I would say our members are probably disillusioned by their attempts in the past to have local accountability and frankly want some rules around how local governments tax and spend. That's by way of explanation.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): You state in the third paragraph of your presentation that you're "not privy to the details of the amendments to be proposed." As we all know, Bill 136 is going to be a completely different bill once the amendments are concluded. Then you go on to state, "It is critical that whatever remains...," and go on to talk about things that you would like to have seen. As an organization that by and large has been relatively supportive of this government's agenda, would you not agree that we would have a better process here and that you would be making a more significant and helpful submission today if indeed we had the amendments in front of us?
Ms Andrew: I certainly think it would be helpful to have the amendments, and that reflects also on Mr Patten's question. It's very hard to respond to something you haven't seen. I keep hearing on the radio that the members of the labour movement have been in for private briefings at the Ministry of Labour. Maybe they have some more details than some of the rest of us, but I would agree with you, yes.
Mr Christopherson: No, in my understanding, and I would ask the parliamentary assistant to correct me if I'm wrong, the briefings the labour movement had earlier yesterday were a reflection of the technical briefing we received last night, so everything they know is on the public record as of last evening, but that doesn't help much when you've only got overnight to consider it.
I would ask you too, if the government decided, if suddenly they woke up and realized this process wasn't serving them or the public well at all, would you be prepared to come back again and make further submissions based on those amendments? If you were given the opportunity, if the government tabled the amendments, even though you've made your submission here today if those amendments were made public, would you and your organization be prepared to come back and comment further on the amendments?
Ms Andrew: I guess it depends on what we would read in the amendments. What you have here of course is the extent of our member votes in the area, so we wouldn't be able to contribute any more on that front. We have obviously some considerable polling data that would actually have us head in quite a different direction than what is reported to be in these amendments.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you. I want to comment on your focus on the fact that you "call on the public sector unions to fulfil their commitments that the retention of the right to strike will not jeopardize public services or create instability." But given that to the best of our knowledge there's never been a strike in the country related to restructuring or reorganization, which is what the focus of Bill 136 is supposed to be, and second, you don't make any mention of the responsibility employers have in these types of negotiations also to avoid any kind of job action, is it not fair to say that pressure is on both parties, and not just the union?
Ms Andrew: Yes, we think everyone should work to avoid strikes, but on the other hand, the interests of taxpayers have to be considered, and it's not sufficient to just look at the one side of it.
Mr Christopherson: That was the point I was making. This presentation basically talks about the one side of it. I was just asking you to confirm that there is equal pressure on both parties.
Ms Andrew: The reason that statement is there is because there were quite well publicized threats of illegal strike action all through the discussions leading up to the tabling of the bill and so forth, war type councils and all this kind of rhetoric that was coming forth. That's why we're saying it's very important for there not to be strike action. We certainly agree there have to be safeguards right across the board to make sure that the restructuring proceeds smoothly and that union and non-union employees are treated fairly in this process.
Mr Christopherson: There is a distinction, however, between the political action the labour movement felt it had to generate regarding Bill 136's passage and the implementation and effect of what happens after Bill 136 is the rules of the game. I'm assuming you were referring to what happens after Bill 136, because you talk about the unions' commitment to act responsibly, which as I've said, they've always done, because there's never been a strike as a result of restructuring. I only wanted to ensure that you felt the responsibility to bargain fairly and avoid strikes if possible is equally placed on the employer as it is on the unions.
Ms Andrew: If you're telling me that the threats of strike action, very public ones that were all over the media, were bluffs and that there isn't any intention of there being a strike, I'm glad to hear that.
Mr Christopherson: No, I think you're confused. I don't think they were bluffs for one second. "Accordingly" -- this is your comment -- "we call on the public sector unions to fulfil their commitments that the retention of the right to strike...." So the reference is what happens after Bill 136 is in place, and that's fair comment. I was only trying to elicit that it's also fair comment to say that the employers in those negotiations, post-passage of any amended Bill 136, is equally important.
Ms Andrew: Yes, and we said there have to be safeguards to make sure that employees of either union or non-union affiliation are treated fairly.
Mr Christopherson: I want to point out also that you state that the "pressure of a strike is directly on the bargaining parties" in terms of the private sector, and I would point out that the lay of the land has changed under Harris's Ontario. Scabs are now legal. We've got strikes such as the one at S.A. Armstrong that's been going on for 15 months now that otherwise wouldn't be dragging on this long because they can use scabs.
Therefore, the pressure at the bargaining table under Mike Harris has changed dramatically. It's no longer equal. The employer has the upper hand. I would point out that the calls for government intervention and protection of services is not just in the public sector. If we take a look at what happened with the high profile UPS strike in the United States, it didn't take too long and after a few days there were calls for President Clinton to step in and provide legislation that forced everybody back to work.
Ms Andrew: The rules in the labour relations forum, as I understand them, don't prevent the employees, if they're on strike, from going and finding alternative sources of income, and at the same time they are not designed to force the employer to be shut down, so on this issue about replacement workers, I think if you were to ban replacement workers, then there should also be a ban on employees going and working elsewhere for the duration of the strike. As it is now, both parties suffer. The employer is not, obviously, able to operate in the same fashion as before.
Mr Christopherson: Just to take that thought for a second, should the board of directors and all the managers lose all their salaries too?
The Chair: Sorry, Mr Christopherson, we have to move to the government caucus now.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much for your presentation. It was somewhat stinging at the beginning that public sector unions and employees of the government have got what they wanted and the general public has been hurt by this. I would disagree because I think that the principles of Bill 136 still remain, those being providing the necessary tools for restructuring; ensuring a smooth transition and dealing fairly with union and non-union employees because the provisions are still there to deal fairly with non-union employees; minimization of service disruption, which you just briefly spoke to Mr Christopherson about; and better-quality service at less cost to the taxpayer, which is the overall goal of the government.
I think those principles are still preserved in Bill 136, although you rightly point out that we did give in to many of labour's key demands, the LRTC being replaced by the OLRB, but the OLRB gets the new processes which were being made available to the LRTC to expedite these transitions.
The right to strike wasn't completely taken away, as has been painted. There were many steps of bargaining that would have had to occur before someone could successfully refer a dispute to the DRC, but that, as has been asked for, has been removed. The elimination of the DRC and a return to the existing system of arbitration is another demand we've acceded to.
But I still think that what's there is going to allow us to minimize service disruption, which is key, with the economy going as well as it is right now, and it provides the necessary tools for restructuring.
You talked about labour and whether or not we'd have disruptions of services. I would say that, yes, some of the comments made about promises of no disruption in services I think were important. Mr Ryan on several occasions, for instance, has said, "If the real goal of Bill 136 is to ensure smooth transition with no labour disruption, I myself, our union can guarantee that." On September 9 he said, "We are prepared to find a way to guarantee that there will be no disruption in services when it comes to the transition period." There are several other places where he's made similar statements, and I think Mr Wilson has made similar comments to Ms Witmer. That's very important, because in acceding to some of the things they asked for, we took, I think, those things at face value and into account, and I'm confident there shouldn't be disruption of services.
I would like to ask you, you say at the bottom of your presentation, "At the very least, interest arbitrators must be required to consider such factors as ability to pay." That is still the case and will still be the case under this legislation. I wondered why you put that in there, because I'm sure you would know that still is the case.
Ms Andrew: We certainly haven't seen the amendments. We wanted to underscore how important that is and draw to your attention the September 1990 vote from our post-election issues survey in which our members voted in favour of arbitrated settlements having that kind of limitation. There's a concern, obviously, that arbitrators haven't been fettered by that kind of thing in the past.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): Good morning, good to see you again, Ms Andrew. I'm sure, as we heard from Mr Christopherson in his comments to you, we're going to hear with every single presentation throughout these hearings the suggestion that somehow it's inappropriate to not have amendments before public hearings. Having had the opportunity to chair about nine bills and act as parliamentary assistant lead in four or five others, it's my recollection that there's never been a bill where the amendments are drafted before the public hearings. In fact, it would seem somewhat insulting to the people coming to make presentations to anticipate or to pre-empt their thoughts.
While it is quite common to make commitments in the course of hearings -- just to give you a very brief example, in the middle of the Tenant Protection Act, we had heard a number of submissions from both the landlords and the tenants in mobile home parks. We indicated halfway through the hearings that we would be making certain changes. No one there said, "I have to see the actual wording before I can make a comment."
I would ask you, in light of the fact that the minister has been unequivocal in terms of the changes she's going to make, and they've been made on the record, on TV, in this forum here -- we have said definitively that certain sections of the bill are removed completely. Given that that's on the record, but also given that over these next few days we're going to hear from a lot of people who have some specific suggestions, would you not agree that it would be totally inappropriate for us to anticipate your comments here today and others' and to have prepared specific wording on a number of sections, or would it be better to respond to that having listened to the people who are taking the time to come before us?
Ms Andrew: I would certainly agree that any submissions that come before this committee that are valid and so forth could eventually find their way into amendments. That's not at issue. I guess it's because this bill has been so hotly debated in the public and the substance of the amendments the minister is apparently going to reveal is so substantive, relative to the bill, that it would have been nice to have seen those beforehand. Presuming it fits with exactly what's been said, our comments will stand.
Mr Gilchrist: I appreciate that, but I guess in the absence of Mr Christopherson or anyone else offering a specific suggestion that there's ever been a bill brought before this Legislature or any hearing where the amendments were drafted first -- I don't think anyone insulted his ministers and himself in the course of hearings. If they made a commitment, I'm sure they honoured it at the end of those hearings.
Mr Christopherson: Nobody's ever gutted a bill like that before either.
The Chair: Order.
Mr Gilchrist: Are you aware, in all the times you've come before the Legislature and made presentations here, of any time there were amendments drafted before you made your presentation?
Ms Andrew: Probably not, but this seems to be a different issue in terms of this being a very substantive change to the bill, and we don't agree with the changes. In fact our members would have had Bill 136 be much tougher in the area of strikes and so forth, and the announcement is to go the other way, so we're very disappointed and obviously I convey that to the committee.
The Chair: Thank you very much for taking the time to come to the committee this morning. We appreciate your advice.
EQUAL PAY COALITION
ONTARIO FEDERATION OF LABOUR
The Chair: I now call upon representatives from the Equal Pay Coalition. Good morning, and welcome.
Ms Mary Cornish: Good morning. My name is Mary Cornish. I'm a spokesperson for the Equal Pay Coalition. Heather McGregor is the executive director of the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto. Ethel Lavalley is the secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
This is how we propose to divide up the 30 minutes: I will set out the presentation for 15 minutes, then Ms McGregor and Ms Lavalley will speak for about three minutes each and the balance of the time will be for questions. As you can see the brief is a joint brief of the Equal Pay Coalition and the Ontario Federation of Labour. We have listed at the back all the organizations that are part of the Equal Pay Coalition. It's a broad-based group that's been in existence since the mid-1970s and so has been involved in really all aspects of the struggle for pay equity and then for the implementation of pay equity in Ontario. We come today to address specifically the Pay Equity Act amendments which form part of Bill 136.
We understand from the ministerial statement yesterday that the government has indicated that its decision with respect to the pay equity amendments is linked to its decision with respect to the decision of Mr Justice O'Leary in the SEIU Local 204 charter challenge decision. As I understand it, unlike the prior collective bargaining amendments, we do not have any current position from the government as to whether or not it is making any change now with respect to those amendments, so we are going to address you with respect to the amendments as they stand.
It's our position that there are essentially three separate amendments, and I'll outline them briefly and then I'll go into them in a little more detail. The first amendment is to remove what we've referred to as the "no-reduction protection" that was brought into the Pay Equity Act in 1993. It was brought in to protect women during sale-of-business transactions where their positions were moved to a new employer.
In 1993 the government passed an amendment that when a woman's job was moved to a new employer, she was not to lose her pay equity adjustment in the process. The plan she had would bind the new employer. It was a fairly simple provision and was specifically enacted in order to protect women in restructurings. This, by Bill 136, has been changed to remove that protection.
The second aspect of Bill 136 we want to address is the removal of the proactive employer obligations with respect to public sector employers. The first amendment I described dealing with removal of the no-reduction protection actually applies, by Bill 136, to both public and private sector employers. The second amendment I'm about to describe only applies to public sector employers. That amendment provides that if you do not have a plan in place by June 4, 1997, in the public sector, you as an employer are freed from any obligations to your employees even though the act as it stands would say that you should have paid up adjustments to your employees back to January 1, 1990, for employers who could use the job-to-job method and 1993-94 for proportional and pay equity adjustments. If employers had managed to evade their obligations up to June 4, 1997, Bill 136 says that they are freed of this obligation. That's the second aspect of the bill that we are asking you to reconsider.
The third aspect of the bill relates to protection for home day care workers. Current decisions under the Pay Equity Act had determined that home day care providers, many of whom are employed by municipalities and other public sector agencies, have been found to be employees of the municipalities or agencies by Pay Equity Commission review officer decisions. Just at the time the matter was being dealt with by the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal, the government introduced legislation to deem these employees not to be employees, in other words, take away their right to pay equity protection under the Pay Equity Act. That's the third aspect of Bill 136 that we wish to address.
In looking at these three aspects, we asked this committee to consider that in looking at pay equity, and I think this is one of the fundamental lessons to be learned from the charter challenge decision, legislatures, in dealing with pay equity, have a special obligation to ensure that the laws that are passed don't increase the inequality that women face and don't take away the protections they have had to claim pay equity. This is particularly true when you are dealing with women in public sectors restructuring.
You'll note in the brief we've put forward that on the bottom of page 4 and page 5 we talk about the fact that there are international labour standards and commitments that particularly draw attention to the fact that countries internationally are concerned that public sector restructurings are having a very negative impact on the equality women were starting to achieve, and that in fiscal restraints there is a tendency for governments to say, "We're going to take back that money", or "We're going to take back that protection." In other words, that equality is only for what some may say are the good times and equality is not a human right.
The UN and others have said that this cannot be an expendable right; it cannot be one that you decide is inconvenient at a certain time when you are interested in downloading public services, privatizing public services. For example, I understand that the amendment with respect to the home day care providers was wanted by the municipalities because they didn't want to have, as they were merged, that responsibility to these home day care providers. It's simple to call up the Ministry of Labour and ask them for an amendment that would get rid of this problem for you. Even though the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal is now dealing with these decisions, you intervene right in the middle of the process and bring in a section which says they're no longer employees.
Again, looking at some of the lessons we've learned from the charter challenge decision, they talk about the fact that the government acted without proper study and that those kinds of studies are particularly appropriate when you're attempting to impact on equality rights. Here the only information the government had was that its expert body, the Pay Equity Commission, had determined these people were employees. However, it was seen to have been decided that was inconvenient, that was too expensive, so they weren't going to do it.
You can see why the government is now reconsidering that amendment. In our view, that kind of action, and in the face of its own expert advice from the commission, could clearly not be sustained. A way in which this has been done is if you look at the issues with respect to removing the proactive obligations of employers with respect to people who don't have plans as of June 4, 1997.
As I understand it, employers wanted to say: "We don't want to have any obligations. We want to be freed of these obligations when we transfer." One of the ways to do this is to say, "Okay, if there's no plan, you're freed of it." It seems to me logic would tell you that if you were proceeding with this issue on the basis of attempting to protect the women in the transaction, what you would be saying to those employers is, "You actually can't transfer until you assure us that you have complied with the law." That really should be the approach, not what we see here, the opposite approach, which is, "If you don't have a plan even though you have an obligation to have a plan, we'll free you of the obligation."
I think it's a fundamentally different approach, because in our view the government's actions since it came to power have indicated a disrespect for the approach of pay equity. They have taken a number of measures, and certainly the charter decision has made it quite clear that its proxy law was flawed; the basis for the law the court has found was completely unacceptable. It then I think decided, when it got to its restructuring bill, "Let's throw in some pay equity amendments and get these employers fixed up so they don't have these inconvenient obligations to these women." Clearly, that's just not something that they're entitled to do.
Let us look at the sale-of-business provisions. We're going to have merging entities as you go through the process that's set out and that we're dealing with in terms of Bill 136. The Pay Equity Act in the Legislature had already addressed itself to this issue back in 1993. It decided in 1993 that what was appropriate was to ensure that women's adjustments were not taken away. I think particularly the reason then was, just as we can see what the government is doing here and what employers would like the government to do, that when you have an opportunity to restructure, you try and win back some of the money you were forced to pay out before.
People are sceptical of what employers will do while they're restructuring and that's why this protection thing: You can't use the pay equity adjustment to finance this restructuring, that it is off limits. That's what we're saying here today, that the process of looking to women's pay equity adjustments to finance public sector restructuring is off limits. The government went to court, it tried to use this reason before and it was unsuccessful. You can't just dip into women's pockets in order to finance restructuring.
With respect to the issues as well, I would point out that in dealing with the sale-of-business provisions the Pay Equity Commission had asked for strengthened provisions. The current act only provided that pay equity plans would bind the new employer, whereas the very people the government is trying to release from liability, those people who managed to evade the law until June 4, because they don't have a plan in place, actually don't have a plan transferring to the new employer. So they'd asked for an amendment to make sure the liability shifted even if there wasn't a plan, whereas the government comes in and says: "We'll just get rid of the liability altogether and everything is tidy. You don't need to worry about these women."
Looked at in that light, we ask you to come at this issue from a different perspective. Come at it from the perspective that we need a law that protects women on restructuring. We think the current law, in its place, does that to the extent that it's necessary at this time. We're asking the government to withdraw the amendments, and we say they violate section 15 of the charter. We're asking this legislative committee to ensure that the amendments are not passed.
You've probably heard some discussion about what is the role of the charter and the role of the Legislature. Some people feel at times that courts are usurping the Legislature's role, and some of you may be considering that as you're trying to deal with these amendments. In relation to that, perhaps it might be useful to look at the charter. The charter was passed by all the legislatures; In other words, citizens elected legislatures that passed the charter. They decided that the charter was a special law which would bind the legislators. In other words, it gave to the courts this special power that when laws stepped over a line, they could be struck down.
That power has not been used very often by courts. There's a section in the charter, section 1, which provides that even if there is discrimination in a law, it could be saved if it was a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society. For example, mandatory retirement was found to be discriminatory but was saved under section 1 as a "reasonable limit." The court case decided that the government didn't meet the test for section 1 because they found that the whole purpose of the proxy law was flawed and was a false objective. The government had argued that it restored true pay equity principles to get rid of proxy and it was not able to establish that in court, so it couldn't meet the test it was to meet.
But there are tests, and it's not simple to win charter cases. It doesn't happen that often. There is a particular problem when you attempt to take away and interfere with equality rights particularly of women, and particularly in the case of women who'd had identified discrimination. That's also here, when you look at these women who'd had a pay equity plan, they had their adjustment identified, and this law now says that if you transfer the business, the protection is taken away that you can't reduce it.
The charter case also talked about the fact that there should not be discrimination among the groups of women within the public sector. The women who do not have a pay equity plan by June 4 are most likely to be the most disadvantaged because they likely have employers who are not organized, who have managed to evade the law. They're the ones who are most at risk, and then the government comes in and says, "We're going to take it away." It really offends some of the basic principles and it reaches the stage at which the courts say we have to intervene.
When you are deciding your issues this week, you need to take into account the same kinds of things that a court would, because that's really the law. You have to sort out whether what you're doing in terms of this law violates the charter. If it does, you're not allowed to pass it. We shouldn't just leave it to courts. You should be determining yourselves, because you're bound by the charter, whether or not these steps in this act are necessary, and if they violate women's equality rights, are they really necessary? We say that they're not. Heather will now add a few supplementary comments.
Ms Heather McGregor: I'm here as a member of the Equal Pay Coalition and as the executive director of the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto. I know that a number of you are familiar with the programs we have in Toronto, and many of you may be familiar with programs the YWCA has in other parts of Ontario. In Toronto there's been a YWCA for 124 years.
We have seen over those 124 years very clearly the effects of discrimination in wages for women. We have seen them in the past and we see them now. Many of our programs work with the most vulnerable women Mary was referring to who do not have in their workplaces pay equity plans posted at the moment. This legislation would reward the employer who hasn't posted this plan. In fact, a systemic remedy is needed to obtain fair wages for women and it was linked to Ontario's proactive pay equity model.
A return now to a complaints-based process would support the old environment of putting the onus upon the most vulnerable to come forward to make a complaint. This is very difficult for women who are isolated in their workplace, who are not unionized, who fear reprisal from their employer because they're coming forward, who don't know what their co-workers who are men make. The YWCA has been a member of this coalition for many years because through our work we see many women working hard to achieve economic independence who would be assisted in achieving economic independence by strong pay equity legislation.
At the YWCA we see many women making positive changes in their lives every day. We've seen many who have been challenged by poverty, by the effects of domestic violence and by unemployment. I urge you to support the women of Ontario by ensuring strong protection for the principle of pay equity. Thank you.
Ms Ethel Lavalley: As Ms Cornish has already said, I'm with the Ontario Federation of Labour. The Ontario Federation of Labour will be doing the presentation on Friday, so my comments today are based on the pay equity part of this. As has already been stated, this bill in my view is another gift to bad employers, with women paying the cost. I've never heard why we should reward bad employers. Why do we set up these practices and then reward those that don't pay any attention to it? It just doesn't make any sense.
As has already been stated, Bill 136 is not needed. As David Christopherson has said, in the history of mergers and amalgamations we know of no strikes; we do not know of any places or times that the public service workers have held up. What we're saying to you is that the way to do this is to sit down and bargain.
The Pay Equity Act already allows methods of addressing restructuring. You've already got in place the tools to do it. I know the Association of Municipalities of Ontario has a great word, that they needed all these tools, the flexibility, to do the work. At this point in time, on the pay equity, you don't need the tools because you already have it in the act.
I want to emphasize my comments from a woman's perspective and from an aboriginal perspective. Many of these people who will be hit by this, if you continue to do this, are aboriginal people, people like myself, many of whom don't have the benefit of a union. It becomes a double whammy for these people. Many women, and I'm sure you will agree, who are making a decent wage in the province don't go away on trips, don't go fishing, don't go hunting etc. The money they make is put back into their communities. They go out and buy clothes and groceries, they support their communities. When you're looking at all this, it's a very important aspect to remember.
As already has been indicated -- this is already in the charter -- the job for you that you really have to look at is, why would we put this as part of Bill 136 anyway? What you need to do is remove it and let it be dealt with under the Pay Equity Act.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have about six minutes remaining for questions; two minutes per caucus. We'll begin with Mr Christopherson from the NDP.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'll state up front that I was very proud to be part of a government that brought the provisions in under the Pay Equity Act, that took a giant leap forward -- certainly not the entire job but a giant leap forward -- in the equality of women in our society. It's reprehensible that this government's intent is to go after the most vulnerable, in many cases the lowest paid in our society, to in my opinion give another gift to their friends on their side of the political spectrum.
We know already that women are disproportionately hit by this government's agenda, whether it's directly as a result of the attack on social service assistance, because most of those families -- we know that 50% of the people who are on social assistance are kids -- are headed up by women, single parents. They're also the ones who are aware of what's going on in communities and how that affects services and what that means for their families and their immediate neighbourhoods; the same with health.
All of that is supported by the fact that all the polling shows there's a major gap in support of this government when you look at the gender issue in terms of: Of those who are supporting the government, how many are males and how many are female? I think it's quite clear this government is not only not interested in advancing the issue of equality, but it's quite prepared to take what turn out to be illegal acts to attack rights women have already fought for.
I think it's interesting, and I want to underscore it, that their last action under Bill 26 was found to be unconstitutional; therefore, it's illegal. It violated the charter. I've been in government and I know that they were advised by their legal people that there was a good possibility that was going to happen. They would've got that advice. They went straight ahead anyway and hoped either you wouldn't take it to the courts, or that if you did, you'd lose on some kind of technicality.
I want to read just a couple of sentences in your presentation about the constitutional challenge you were successful at. Your presentation states:
"The court found that the government argument" -- this is the argument the government used to defend its actions in attacking women's rights -- "that the proxy method was a flawed tool to identify gender-based wage equity was 'false.'" Those are the court's words. "Instead, the court accepted the evidence of the union's renowned expert witness in pay equity," who "found that the 'proxy method was and is an appropriate pay equity tool in keeping with the intent of the Pay Equity Act to relieve women, including those working in female-segregated workplaces in the broader public sector, from systemic gender-based wage discrimination.'"
I remember the debate at the time this hit the floor when we said: "The reason we're doing this is because there is systemic discrimination, and if you don't have laws protecting it, women are never going to get the rights they're entitled to." Here you are four years later having to go to court under a constitutional challenge to defend a fight that should have been over for you.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr Christopherson: What?
The Chair: Sorry, just two minutes per caucus.
Mr Christopherson: I thought you said six.
The Chair: No, just two; we're almost out of time.
Mr Maves: One of the things you said was that the government should tell municipalities they shouldn't transfer until they've complied with the law. My own question is that if they've complied with the law and they transfer, once they transfer, should they be subject to a new liability above and beyond the one they've already complied with?
Ms Cornish: If there is a pay equity plan in place, what it would mean is that an employer who didn't have a pay equity plan -- the person, let's say, as of June 4 -- should've been directed to get one in place between then and January 1 and make all the payments. That's the first thing. Instead of relieving them of liability, you would've said, "You make sure you have one between now and January 1." Then once you transfer, you've transferred with the women having all their liability paid up to date. The plan then moves to the new employer. That's what I'm saying would've been an approach. The law already required that employer to be doing that. But the government's approach instead was to say, "If you don't have it as of June 4, you don't have that liability."
Mr Maves: But in situations where a municipality has complied and they transfer into another municipality, should they have a new obligation to comply above and beyond the compliance they've already achieved?
Ms Cornish: There's a continuing obligation to maintain the plan they have. That's what they would have, their obligation to maintain the plan they already have.
Mr Maves: Right. And in a merger, should they have a new obligation above and beyond the one they've already --
Ms Cornish: No, we're saying they should continue with the obligation they have. As women have received a pay equity adjustment, they shouldn't have it lowered by the new employer. The new employer can't come in and say, "You got this much but we don't think that's the right amount; we want to lower it to this amount."
Mr Maves: You would hold that the reverse is true, that in a new merged municipality they couldn't say, "Now the rules have changed and the plan has to be increased because of other employees in the new unit."
Ms Cornish: It really depends, because one of the things we're finding now is that in restructuring, what women are doing is substantially increasing in value because what's happening is women are now doing far more in their jobs. As more and more people are laid off, the people who are left working are actually left in increasingly more complex jobs. One of the issues would be to make sure that the original plan in terms of its valuation is actually still accurate; in other words, if the women aren't now doing a different job. That is one of the issues that will come into play. Where you have precisely the same job, then no, there wouldn't be a reason to change.
Mr Patten: Thank you very much for your presentation; I thought it was excellent. You obviously have the experience, background and chutzpah to exercise your position.
First of all, I agree totally with your analysis. When you say this is a gift for poor employers, it's a question of values really. It's whether you're so dedicated to money or providing outs for local municipalities or whatever, who are being squeezed by the provincial government, that you'll look for any particular avenue, even if it denies human rights, even if it puts down better than 50% of our population, namely, women.
I would like to ask you: We have essentially one hour on Monday morning to put forward our amendments knowing what the government is going to propose. You heard what the minister said yesterday, I hope. If you didn't, I'm sure you'll be disappointed. She essentially said that she will see what'll happen in light of the ruling. That's all she said.
Ms Cornish: Right.
Mr Patten: You probably know better than anybody else, because of your legal expertise -- I'm not a lawyer; my staff aren't either. If you literally provide the amendments you'd like to see in that legislation, I will be happy to move those in this committee when we come to clause-by-clause.
Ms Cornish: Our position is quite simple: You just withdraw the amendments. There isn't a need to amend them. The current Pay Equity Act provisions will deal with the restructuring, so all you need to do is delete the sections that are there.
The Chair: Thank you very much for coming before the committee. We appreciate your advice this morning.
Colleagues, we're checking to see if our next presenter, the Ontario Hospital Association, is available. We'll take a five-minute recess until that's confirmed, please.
The committee recessed from 1010 to 1020.
ONTARIO HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION
The Chair: We are now pleased to welcome representatives from the Ontario Hospital Association.
Mr David MacKinnon: My name is David MacKinnon. I am the president of the Ontario Hospital Association. I am joined this morning by Gail Paech, the president of the Toronto East General and Orthopaedic Hospital; by Murray McKenzie, the president of the North York General Hospital; and by my colleague Brian Siegner, who is vice-president of hospital employee relations services for the Ontario Hospital Association. As members may know, most of the central bargaining for the hospital industry is done through the employee relations services of the OHA.
We very much welcome the opportunity to speak to you this morning on Bill 136, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act, which addresses issues of absolutely critical concern to us. As I'm sure all members of the committee know, hospitals are in a period of intense and very rapid restructuring, and that is occurring at a time of massive budget reductions.
To date the Health Services Restructuring Commission has directed 25 hospitals across the province to close. Communities in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sarnia, Pembroke, London, Ottawa and Toronto have received final decisions from the commission. In Metropolitan Toronto alone, 11 of 44 public hospitals are slated for closure. This is one of the largest public sector restructuring activities ever undertaken in Canada, and in the health sector one of the largest on the continent. It's been undertaken in time frames that are very much more rapid than most other exercises of similar scale have involved.
The restructuring, however, is only part of the problem. Hospitals and others have had their base operating budgets reduced by 5% in 1996-97 and by 6% in 1997-98. A further 7% that was scheduled for removal in 1998-99 was deferred by the May provincial budget.
These budget and restructuring changes require a very significant workplace realignment. Ms Paech and Mr McKenzie will describe some of the details of that in a few minutes. That realignment of course involves our most important asset in hospitals: people. Thousands of staff, both union and non-union, will see significant changes in their jobs. Some will move to different sites, others will lose their positions. There is a level of change that is quite extraordinary across the board for all the people connected with hospitals in Ontario.
As these shifts in the system occur, it is vitally important that human resource decisions are made within tight time frames, that they are made fairly -- fairness is essential -- and that both union and non-union staff are treated equitably. More importantly, the change must take place in a way that minimizes negative impact on patient care, a critically important consideration. Again, Ms Paech and Mr McKenzie can illustrate very clearly for you some of the issues relating to patient care that will result without the legislative provisions that Bill 136 provides.
As it stands, the current labour relations framework is too cumbersome and time-consuming to accommodate the changes. It handcuffs hospitals from making the changes needed to ensure that human resources are used effectively and that the maximum possible amount of a hospital's budget is directed to front-line patient care. The current framework, much of which dates from the 1960s, was designed in a different era for a different health care system and a very different economic environment, as we all know. Today, hospitals and their employees need a new and modern framework to meet the current short-term pressures, which are very intense, and in the longer term to create a new labour relations environment that is in tune with the very rapidly changing health care system and its need for new ideas and new technologies.
We made a clear representation, as a result of all these considerations, of these requirements to the Minister of Health during our first meeting with him on this issue in the summer of 1995. We have repeated these and other arguments in subsequent meetings with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Labour as well as subsequent meetings with the Minister of Health.
The Ontario Hospital Association and all its members have been supportive of Bill 136 from the outset. We felt that the legislation provided the tools to deal with the extraordinary environment in which we find ourselves and to proceed with restructuring without delay. We think they do so while balancing the needs of patients, employers, employees, and taxpayers. We have placed patients first on that list because our obligation to provide the services to patients in the most constructive possible way is obviously the most critical one.
Hospitals were deeply troubled by the government's apparent retreat over the legislation, outlined in the Minister of Labour's statement in the Legislature on September 18, regarding intended amendments. Having been the most active and public supporters of the bill, the hospital sector has been disturbed by the prospects of dilution of some of its key provisions. I would conclude my introduction by saying that hospitals must have the tools they need to manage human resources in this period of very intense and extraordinary change. Without them we run a very real risk of having the restructuring process stall completely and become mired in delays and confusion. The deadlines in the Health Services Restructuring Commission will be completely unachievable.
I will now ask Murray McKenzie, president of North York General and chair of OHA's human resource committee, to explain the hospitals' needs in further detail.
Mr Murray McKenzie: Thank you, David. I want to make it absolutely clear to members of this committee that returning to the status quo in labour relations is simply not an option for hospitals. It would be disastrous. Business as usual simply won't do.
Having said that, let me speak first to the hospital sector's ongoing needs in terms of labour legislation. We understand that rather than proceeding with the establishment of the Dispute Resolutions Commission, the government will amend the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act. OHA has repeatedly called for amendments desperately needed to HLDAA, and we welcome any amendments in this round that (1) provide a permanent panel of arbitrators who are not dependent for their livelihood on any future business with either of the parties; (2) include best practices and taxpayers' interest criteria; (3) include expedited hearing mechanisms, mediation-arbitration and final offer selection, time limits for issuing awards, the ability to join disputes and a minimum term of two years from the date of the award. All of these are sadly lacking in the current legislation.
We would also like to note that the amended act should apply in all cases where a hearing did not occur prior to June 3, 1997, or where such a hearing occurred but a final decision was not issued prior to proclamation.
With respect to the sector's more immediate or transitional needs, the government must ensure the Ontario Labour Relations Board's effectiveness in order to provide any substantive assistance to hospitals during the period of restructuring. This can be accomplished by providing that, among other things, the Ontario Labour Relations Board must (1) ensure that non-union employees are as equally protected as union employees -- nothing less will suffice; (2) provide a fast-track process for resolving union representation issues -- absolutely critical; (3) ensure access to the new process, not only for mergers and amalgamations that are yet to occur but also for hospitals that have already merged which still have outstanding union representation issues, some of those for years; and (4) not permit vice-chairs of the board to arbitrate or otherwise resolve non-Ontario Labour Relations Board disputes.
Having provided the context for why the hospitals need these particular changes in order to accommodate hospital restructuring and the future of labour relations throughout the sector, I would like to turn our presentation over to my colleague Gail Paech, president of Toronto East General and Orthopaedic Hospital, to provide you with some recent examples of why we need them.
Ms Gail Paech: Good morning. I'm going to provide a couple of examples of the very real labour relations issues which have occurred within the hospital sector. I believe they illustrate the very real dilemmas that hospitals face in accommodating restructuring and why the sector has been so supportive of Bill 136.
In November 1996, the Hamilton Civic Hospital merged with Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals. Where program changes are concerned, the merger is still in the implementation phase. However, the Canadian Union of Public Employees has made its position clear that its members, service and other employees at the Civic and the Chedoke site have first priority on any jobs available at the new hospital after restructuring.
The problem in this instance is that the service workers at the McMaster site are not represented by a union. If the Ontario Labour Relations Board does not protect the interests of non-unionized employees in such circumstances, CUPE would be in a position where it can simply refuse to consider any position which balances the interests of all employees.
Example two which I would like to present to you this morning really reflects the time issues we are dealing with and the need to have a resolution which addresses the issues in a timely way. The Toronto Hospital is the result of a merger of the former Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals in October 1986 -- not 1996 but 1986. Eleven years later, the hospital has finally reached an agreement with the Ontario Nurses' Association to combine the seniority lists of its bargaining units at the two sites, with one restriction. However, CUPE still refuses to combine its bargaining units.
The result of CUPE's refusal is that there have been occasions where the hospital has had to hire carpenters and contractors to complete work on one site of the hospital rather than being able to transfer CUPE staff carpenters from the other site of the hospital.
These are but two of many examples I could give you which demonstrate why the sector welcomes Bill 136 as a means to provide a workable resolution to the dilemma that hospitals are facing with respect to the labour relations issues.
Mr MacKinnon: I hope these two real-life descriptions of both the problems and the kinds of issues that have arisen without the changes that are built into the proposals for Bill 136 are useful to the committee. There are two figures I would like to draw to your attention. One is to emphasize the 11 long years that Ms Paech has described in relation to one dispute.
I would also like to highlight one other, which is that in the two hospitals represented here this morning somewhere between 50% and 70% of the staff have changed their positions within the last two or three years. I would like the members of the committee to consider what that means for the people affected, for the management of hospitals and for the kinds of instruments that are needed to accommodate that kind of massive change so that it does not impact upon patient care. We believe that the very health of the system is threatened if we do not move very expeditiously to resolve the very real issues hospitals are facing to accommodate restructuring and to facilitate a more rational, consistent and modern treatment of collective agreements in the future.
That concludes the formal part of our presentation. For whatever time remains, we'd be happy to respond to questions from the committee.
The Chair: You've left us time for questions, which I know the members of the committee appreciate, about four minutes per caucus. We'll begin with the government caucus.
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): Thank you to the OHA for the presentation. I think it demonstrates strongly a need for changes in labour legislation. We've heard some mention from the third party and from some witnesses that there hasn't been a strike during transitions in the past, therefore you don't need to change the labour legislation. Your argument is just the opposite. In fact, you came up with some great examples. Let's see if I have them straight: It's taken 11 years for two hospitals in Toronto to amalgamate -- General and Western, is that correct? -- a couple of their unions.
Mr McKenzie: It's not finished yet.
Mr Hudak: It's not even finished yet. So if you want to send a carpenter from one site to do a little work at the other site, he or she is not allowed to visit that site. Any money that's wasted in terms of not being able to utilize the labour you already have -- you have to contract out to somebody else -- is money that can't go into direct-line patient care. It's less money for kidney dialysis or for an operation or to pay a nurse. I think that demonstrates very clearly how important changes are and how quickly they're needed in this sector.
Chedoke-McMaster is another example you brought up. Here you have non-union workers at the McMaster site -- is that right? -- one of the groups. I understand that if we don't make changes to labour legislation during amalgamation, that group would not be protected. So is it the view of the OHA that it's important to recognize the rights of non-union employees in amalgamations and mergers?
Mr MacKinnon: Absolutely equitable treatment is critical to the effective functioning of the hospital.
Mr Hudak: When we look at restructuring of hospitals across Ontario to make sure that we put more resources into front-line services, into patient care, how critical is it that we change labour legislation? If we don't move forward with Bill 136, what kind of situation will we be looking at down the road due to all the different restructurings and amalgamations that are going to take place in the next few years?
Mr McKenzie: Restructuring, as prescribed by the Health Services Restructuring Commission, will not occur. It's as simple as that. It will not occur. It cannot occur.
Mr Hudak: If we try to move ahead with that without making changes to the labour legislation, will this situation where carpenters and such can't move from building to building be rampant across the province, that kind of waste and duplication?
Mr McKenzie: It won't just be rampant across the province; it will also result in a very chaotic environment that will take multiple years and we'll pay a price in terms of patient care and the disruption of patient care teams that we don't want to pay as a society.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): I want to thank the OHA and the four of you for coming before the committee today.
I'd like to talk about, if we could get an estimate, what the financial cost to hospitals would be of not having Bill 136 in place. Has the OHA been able to make any sort of estimate and what effect that might have on patient care in this province?
Mr McKenzie: Let me just make a preliminary comment. We haven't done a detailed calculation.
Mr Hudak: It must be enormous.
Mr McKenzie: It would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We have had that very broad discussion in terms of the impact. The savings and the shifts in resources that the commission is calling for, instead of working within a one-and-a-half to three-year time frame for most of the changes, we'd be looking at a five-year-plus time frame in the very best of situations, and in the process pay a terrible price in terms of quality of care and access as well.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Thanks, everyone, for being here this morning. I was particularly pleased to read of your comments in Chatham recently, where you visited. I was unable to attend but I saw them through the press. Part of your presentation here highlights again some of the concerns you had in that locale.
I happen to represent two thirds of the municipalities in what will soon be known as Chatham-Kent. There is a huge restructuring going on there, both municipally, and the hospitals are earmarked to have a visit from the commission shortly.
I'm pleased that you feel that union and non-union staff should be treated on some equal basis. The municipalities tend to feel the same way, those politicians I've talked to, reeves and others. They want to see a sense of fairness. As well, they also recognize that there may not be as many employees.
So those non-union workers who may have made less money in the past, it's more easily deemed that they could be brought up to a higher pay scale because there would be fewer employees. In the hospital sector, would you predict that there would be fewer employees, equal numbers, more?
Ms Paech: Certainly with restructuring there will be a reallocation of human resources. As you look at redesigning the health care system, you are looking at trying to provide more health care services in the community, so there is an opportunity there. For years we have been talking about providing services in the community and we have not done that. There is an opportunity, therefore, for individuals who are presently in the hospital sector to be able to move and provide those services in the community.
You are seeing a transformation of how we provide health care services, so there certainly are the opportunities for new types of positions such as nurse practitioners in hospitals; there are opportunities for more nurses to work in the home sector, for homemakers. So yes, there will be those opportunities.
Will there be some downsizing? Will there be some loss of jobs? Yes, there will be some loss of jobs. But I think that the hospital sector also has a track record of leading in all sectors, of an ability to provide the supports in terms of their pension plans and also of helping people with adjusting to loss of jobs and then looking for new places for employment.
We were the first to bring in HTAP. What hospitals have done also -- certainly my facility spent $8 million of their own resources to help people with early retirements, and financial contribution, to ensure their wellbeing.
Mr Hoy: In the human resources area, I'm talking to people in my community who are having high levels of stress. Not only has their workload changed and been added to but they're not certain about the future and whether they're going to have jobs or not. I view this somewhat in this regard, that the restructuring is moving so quickly, and now you are here today to say, "Very quickly give us the tools to manage something that is moving far, far too fast." Would you agree?
We have a chicken-and-egg situation here. The restructuring is going far too quickly, and now you're asking for other pieces of legislation to help you move even quicker. For the public good, would it not have been better that this hospital restructuring went somewhat slower and more thoughtfully?
Ms Paech: I think people are experiencing more stress because they do not understand or know what the impact will be on them as individuals. So they are asking their organizations, "At least let us know what is going to happen to us."
Right now hospital workers have no idea of where they're going to work and what type of job they are going to do with the bumping process. That is creating unbelievable stress, more so than with the issue of restructuring overall.
Mr McKenzie: If I could just add to that, most of the workers I talk to want to get on with it, want to get things done. They know that change is coming; they know there will be job loss. They don't know the rules, they feel apprehensive, but they want to get through the change.
The other issue related to demoralization goes back to the factor of current arbitration and collective agreement provisions related to disruption and to bumping. For nurses, for example, cancellation of a single shift triggers the bumping provisions. When your team is constantly changing and when the environment in which you're working and the relationships that you have and the skills that you are expected to demonstrate are constantly shifting, that's one of the major reasons for the demoralization and the problems in health care teams.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'd like to start by just picking up where Mr Newman talked about the financial cost of all of this and point out that right at the top of your presentation you're stating, "Hospitals are in a period of intense and rapid restructuring accompanied by massive budget reductions." You go on to point out that in fiscal 1996-97 it was 5% reduction; in 1997-98, that's 6%. When you want to talk about dollars and how much things cost, take a look at what you're doing to our hospitals and our communities in terms of the budget dollars that you've cut and the lack of reinvestment that's taking place in our communities.
I would also comment on Mr Hudak's submission that there need to be all kinds of changes, and he points to the examples you've raised here about Hamilton and Toronto. Let me say that the labour movement in this province, both in the hospital sector and elsewhere, is not opposed to expeditious resolution of problems. In fact historically it has been the labour movement that has pushed to try to have time frames that work for both parties, as long as the system is fair. The OFL has said very clearly they're not opposed to changes in the way we do things to accommodate the restructuring. They disagree with a lot of the restructuring, but they respect the right that the government is the government and it has a right to exercise its majority, but things need to be fair.
It troubles me when government members leave the impression that somehow the unions are happy that some things take 11 years to resolve. They aren't. They want them resolved as quickly if not quicker than anyone else, but they want the system fair. That's why you had to back down on your original Bill 136, because it wasn't fair. Now, if the government's listening, we'll get closer to something that is fair.
I would point out that had the government talked to the labour movement before it dropped 136 on the floor of the Legislature, as well as all the other partners, we could have avoided a lot of the apprehension and fear and concern that's out there by all members of society, both those who work in the public sector and those who use the services.
I would also mention that when we talk about the Hamilton example, the biggest fear we have in Hamilton right now is that we're going to lose one of our key hospitals. We've had two major reports that have said we need all our hospitals. We've done the restructuring, we've saved the money necessary, and the idea of losing St Joseph's Hospital or the Henderson or Chedoke-McMaster is terrifying to the people in our community, particularly the seniors in the downtown area I represent.
The fact that CUPE is representing their members is their obligation, just like the OHA has a responsibility to represent your member organizations and each of the government backbenchers has an obligation to represent their constituents. What's necessary, first of all, I would think that the best thing those workers at Chedoke-McMaster could do is unionize so that they do have the strength of collective bargaining. But barring that, again, a fair and expeditious legal resolution to these problems is what unions have been seeking for decades.
My question to you is this. You say that one of the biggest threats facing the health system that we have are these labour relations issues. I don't know that I would disagree with the fact that if they aren't resolved fairly and expeditiously we could run into serious problems. But isn't it fair to say that in communities like mine in Hamilton and here in Toronto the whole issue of making sure the money saved from this restructuring is reinvested back in the community, either through extended hospital services or community services, is the greatest threat facing the health care system right now?
Mr MacKinnon: If I may respond on two levels, first of all, it's going to be very important in a time of rapid change that hospitals, their partners in the community and everyone works together. If that doesn't happen the outlook is not promising. I think that's the answer to your last set of questions.
The answer to your first on the funding comments in our presentation is that, yes, we have had significant budget cuts coming before restructuring. That has been an issue. We believe that the government in its budget did respond to that in substantive ways, although it will be very important that the restructuring expenditures budgeted are actually operative, that we actually get that all operationalized so that the money can flow.
The government has indicated that it is going to postpone the third-year cuts. We believe it's very important that that decision be finalized to make sure that there's a key financial stability as we move through this period of rapid change. We're mindful of the extent to which government has responded to our concerns in that area, but it will be critically important to follow up on those responses so that the restructuring money actually flows quickly and hopefully up front, and secondly, so that the third-year cuts that they have indicated are postponed definitively. Unless that happens it's a significant difficulty soon.
Mr Christopherson: Sir, I know you're talking to Ontarians in every community across this province. They're all feeling the impacts of the cuts on your budgets in terms of longer waiting, getting access to beds, services that have been reduced or eliminated, and I would suggest that that's the biggest threat facing us.
The Chair: Presenters, our time has expired. On behalf of all of the members the committee, I thank you for taking the time to come before us this morning with your advice.
Mr MacKinnon: Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Are the representatives from the Ontario Nurses' Association present? Colleagues, they are our next presenters and do not seem to be here at this moment. We will again take a five-minute recess to allow them time to appear.
The committee recessed from 1051 to 1101.
ONTARIO NURSES' ASSOCIATION
The Chair: Our next presenters are from the Ontario Nurses' Association. Welcome to the committee.
Ms Barb Wahl: Thank you. Good morning. My name is Barb Wahl, and my colleagues and I from the Ontario Nurses' Association are pleased to appear today to present our concerns about Bill 136. With me today are Lesley Bell, chief executive officer, Risa Pancer, arbitration officer, and Seppo Nousiainen, our research officer.
As a union representing 43,000 registered nurses and allied health care workers in the province, we are party to over 500 collective agreements. They are in public hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the aged, community health, home care and industry. With the exception of those working in private industry, virtually all of our members will be vitally affected by both sections of Bill 136.
We acknowledge that the minister's statement of September 18 may now allow us to work with independent arbitrators. However, since we do not have the details of the proposed changes, we cannot comment on them.
We believe that Bill 136 as presently conceived is a fundamental attack on the long-held rights of our members to receive an impartial and fair hearing in contract disputes. It makes it likely that our hard-won rights will be taken away when the legislation compels arbitrators to base decisions on economically oriented criteria such as the employer's ability to pay. As a result, we face the potential loss of many of the provisions we have fought for decades to achieve, including provisions that have a direct effect on patient care.
As the legislation is currently written no concern will be given to quality-of-care issues and the fairness of the process. If there are no substantive changes, Bill 136 will be an open invitation to undermine the integrity of our bargaining units in situations involving mergers, amalgamations, and transfer of services. The future of professional bargaining units such as those in ONA is placed in jeopardy given the inherent bias in the purpose and criteria clauses that seem to favour larger bargaining units. While the "bigger is better" philosophy may appeal to government and to employers, it must be recognized that it could fatally affect the ability of employees such as nurses to democratically choose their own representatives. That is simply unacceptable to us, and indeed it works against long-established labour relations principles that value the contributions that professional units can make, particularly in bringing forward issues concerning quality of care.
The legislation also contemplates that in certain situations involving the joining of organized and unorganized employees, nurses could lose their union altogether. Our very right to exist could be jeopardized by an anti-union vote, or even worse, no ability at all to vote for the union of choice.
The legislation also threatens to destroy the system of central collective bargaining that we, along with our employers, have taken so many years to create. Thus the incentive to cooperate is lost, and we will all be faced with the huge cost and complexity of negotiating hundreds of collective agreements in workplaces in Ontario. If the government hoped that Bill 136 could reduce the cost, complexity, and the time it takes to conclude collective agreements, we believe the opposite will result. Stability will not be enhanced and chaos could result.
We would like to comment on five specific areas.
Our first area of concern has to do with impartiality and fairness in the decision-making process. Bill 136 must ensure a decision-making process that guarantees a process grounded in independence, impartiality and fairness. The government must ensure that arbitrators do not have their powers restricted any time because of legislation or regulations. It's critical to maintain the current and long-standing system of independent tripartite arbitration. Unless impartiality is somehow restored, the whole process will lose credibility. The bill must ensure that procedural safeguards provide an open and fair hearing of issues.
We understand the government has proposed a number of changes that may offer an element of consultation in the appointment of adjudicators and a greater measure of procedural fairness in the adjudication process, or indeed, return us to the current system. Our understanding of these proposals is that they could take us towards a satisfactory resolution of these issues, but at this point in time we cannot comment on them.
Our concern about an independent decision-making entity not only applies to interest disputes but also to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The minister has indicated an intention not to proceed with the establishment of a labour relations transition committee and instead assign these functions to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. But that in itself would not allay our concerns. We remain concerned that the board's independence may be undermined as a result of recent terminations, appointments and public statements made by the government.
Our second area of concern is with respect to contract stripping and effect on quality of health care. We understand that during the recent briefing of labour representatives by ministry staff the economic criteria as first proposed in the bill will remain. If this is so, we must strongly assert our continuing objection to the bill. It is an open question whether the criteria will result in reductions of front-line services and/or compensation of public sector employees. We question why these criteria will be operational on a permanent basis when the rationale has spoken only of the need for stability during the two-year transition process.
On the issue of the degree to which services may have to be reduced if current funding and taxation levels are not increased, this predetermines the decision-makers will not increase wages or other compensation since the government is unlikely to increase funding. In fact, it's unclear what this criterion really means.
We would suggest that fairness and quality criteria be written into the legislation to balance the economically oriented criteria. If this is not done, we expect to see employers invest significant resources in an attempt to have our contracts stripped of many provisions that today protect the quality of care we deliver in our health care institutions.
One of these is the professional responsibility clause found in all of our hospital collective agreements and in many other agreements in homes for the aged and nursing homes. The essence of this provision is that nurses may bring forward a complaint when asked to perform more work than is consistent with safe patient care. Once a complaint is made, efforts are made to resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of both parties. Failing resolution, it is referred to an independent assessment committee which makes findings and recommendations.
It is precisely these types of quality-of-care considerations we fear will be lost in an adjudication that is directed to consider economic issues at the expense of quality issues. This would particularly be the case if nurses' collective agreements were incorporated into an all-employee collective agreement. In other words, this uniquely professional provision would have little chance of surviving a consolidation of collective agreements, particularly since RNs may only be a small group within a larger all-employee bargaining unit.
Other types of quality of care provisions can be found throughout our collective agreements, such as issues dealing with continuous shift work, scheduling weekend work, overtime, the delegation of added nursing skills, sanctioned medical acts, and other working conditions. All of these have been written either to protect quality standards and/or to ensure that nurses' working conditions are such that quality care will result.
Finally, if there is to be no elimination of the right to strike, even during the transition period, what is the justification for changes to the interest arbitration criteria during the same period for those who don't have the right to strike in the first place?
Our concern is that if our collective agreements are subject to economic evaluation alone, many of the above-mentioned professionally oriented provisions will be taken out of our agreements because they may be looked at as frills or they may be simply overlooked in agreements where nurses are a minority. That is why we are asking for quality-of-care and fairness concerns in terms of both client outcomes and staff morale to be directly addressed in Bill 136 as opposed to the overt emphasis now being placed on economic criteria.
Our third area of concern has to do with bargaining unit determination. The Labour Relations Transition Commission has been given the authority under section 24(1) to "determine the number, scope and composition of bargaining units that are appropriate," in situations where hospitals are merged, amalgamated or where "substantial restructuring of two or more employers who operate hospitals during the transition period" has occurred. This authority is given if the parties cannot agree on these issues.
The danger here is that the appropriateness of bargaining unit makeup may be lost to conflicting goals provided by the legislation itself, the inexperience of the commissioners, who are not compelled to follow the rules of the current Ontario Labour Relations Board, or the misguided motives of employers who consolidate bargaining units in the mistaken belief that this will save money. The stakes are high for our union, since the very existence of any separate professional bargaining unit could be in question, particularly where votes are held to create all-employee units. Worse still, nurses could lose their bargaining rights even without a vote, where there is a joining of a small nurses unit with a large all-employee unit.
It is regrettable that the legislation creating the Labour Relations Transition Commission did not incorporate such criteria as the history of collective bargaining, employee preferences and community of interest as considerations when questions are raised about bargaining units. We understand, however, that these issues will be incorporated into the yet-unseen amendments.
It is also worth noting that other jurisdictions such as British Columbia and Saskatchewan have grappled with similar restructuring issues in health care and the final resolution of bargaining unit makeup has been in favour of maintaining separate units for nurses along with units for other technical or service employees. We trust that any amendments made to Bill 136 will also allow this to happen in Ontario.
We welcome the statement of the minister that ONA's professional concerns will be addressed by amendments to the bill as well as the undertaking that no group of unionized employees will lose their collective bargaining rights without a vote. However, as indicated earlier, until we see the actual amendments we are left in doubt about whether or not our concerns have been resolved.
Our fourth issue concerns central bargaining. Bill 136 presents the very real possibility that central bargaining will begin to break down in Ontario. This would be extremely regrettable since all of the parties have worked together for over 20 years to preserve and expand the central system. Just recently, central bargaining was adopted in nursing homes and by the Victorian Order of Nurses, and we expect soon to begin a process of central bargaining in homes for the aged. It is the economic criteria and purpose clauses found within Bill 136 that will jeopardize this cost-effective process of central collective bargaining.
Our final area of concern is with regard to pay equity. Bill 136 should be amended immediately to recognize the recent court judgement which supports our position that employers are obligated to end pay inequity without any arbitrary limitations on the adjustments required.
In conclusion, we acknowledge that the government appears to be making major changes to this bill, but has as yet refused to share with us the details of these changes. There is a real danger that long-established practices regarding bargaining-unit determination and representation rights will be lost and the future of central bargaining will be in jeopardy. We ask that you deal with the process issues through amendments to other legislation such as the Labour Relations Act and the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act and withdraw Bill 136.
We would now be pleased to entertain any questions.
The Chair: We have just about five minutes each per caucus and we'll begin with questions from the official opposition.
Mr Patten: Good morning. There are some sections I would like to read, because I know in the interests of time you skipped over sections of your brief. If I may respond, in some cases you're saying you acknowledge that the minister has said certain things but you're reacting to what is in the bill at the moment.
As we heard yesterday -- I don't know if you have a copy of the minister's statement made yesterday -- the government is saying they intend to address, but I gather from you that you're somewhat handicapped by virtue of not having the detailed amendments.
Ms Wahl: Right.
Mr Patten: The government members of course feel that this is highly unusual. I would contend that in a bill where there is such dramatic proposed change to the government's own legislation, it certainly would be helpful, at minimum, and I think ethical, to propose those amendments and say, "Here's what they are; here's how we see these things play out," otherwise it causes doubt in the eyes of many and leads to some of the cynicism that prevails about the true intent of the government to go as far as they say they are prepared to go. So I would ask whether you feel you are in that kind of position.
Ms Wahl: We are in that position. We don't know what the amendments are going to look like, although we've heard rumours. We're speculating, but we don't know. Our only position possible was to respond to what we have seen on paper to date. We'd like very much to see the amendments and we'd like very much to respond to amendments.
Mr Patten: You addressed numerous cases, and I for one, knowing you and your union members, having worked in the hospital sector very closely for four and a half years, know what the nurses have to do, what they have to contend with and the incredible pressure and insecurity and stressfulness that are there at the moment on almost every side.
Continually you allude to the concern for quality of care. I would like to ask you if you would elaborate somewhat on that. What does that mean on the floor of a hospital when you say the implications for affecting quality of care are there?
Ms Wahl: If the quality-of-care concerns were not there, then nurses would not have the tools they have now to indicate that staffing has reached an unsafe level. Right now, if staffing reaches an unsafe level, they can use the professional responsibility clause. We have forms to fill out and they go to the employer and we keep a record. It is a very important indication of what's happening on a floor. While at one point in time there may not be changes immediately, what starts to happen is that a pattern is developed and there's an accurate record of what's going on. Nurses are able to reach back and say: "We've told you for six months, three months, whatever, that we've got insufficient staff on floor X and now this incident has taken place. Here's the proof that the cause is the staffing. We've been telling you that there have been problems right along."
Nurses have been willing to work harder, do more, and they've done that consistently. They're working 14-hour days in many cases. I had a call last week from nurses who are in a position of having to work 18 hours of mandatory overtime in a pay period. But if you take away the assurance of being able to provide quality care, nurses will not tolerate that change.
Mr Hoy: I just had one brief question in regard to pay equity. We had a presentation this morning that suggested any reference in the bill to pay equity simply be removed. Would you agree with that position in light of the court decision recently?
Ms Wahl: We think that's most appropriate.
Mr Hoy: I know you said it should be amended, but for now you've stated that you agree that references to pay equity under Bill 136 should simply be removed?
Ms Wahl: Right. That would be satisfactory to us.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation, and good morning. I want to start by mentioning to you -- I don't know if you were here for it -- that earlier Mr Gilchrist commented that it would be insulting to presenters if they offered their amendments before they had heard from everybody. Our position in the opposition is that we've never seen a bill gutted to the degree that this one has been and completely reorienting, completely changing the direction that a bill is going, and therefore the insult is not to offer up the amendments, because this isn't the bill that's going to pass.
We're also suggesting that it's insulting for those of you making presentations to realize that we're going to hear right up until 5 pm on Friday submissions, and yet by 10 am Monday morning we're expected to have all our amendments in place and in legalese and submitted to the clerk.
It's also insulting, in my opinion, to suggest that this government is actually listening because there's absolutely no time for a P and P meeting or a cabinet meeting between the time of the last submission and the deadline for the amendments. That means they've already made up their minds. They know what direction they're going in. They haven't left enough time procedurally to consider anything that's being said here. In our opinion, that's what is insulting about this process.
In that regard, I'd like to ask you if you're aware of any other piece of legislation that has been so dramatically changed by announcements from the minister and then no amendments are being offered. In other words, have you ever had a piece of legislation where there's so much change announced and then you're asked to come in and make submissions to a piece of legislation that de facto doesn't exist any more? Have you ever experienced this before?
Ms Wahl: I haven't, and I'll just check with someone on my panel. No.
Mr Seppo Nousiainen: We've made a number of presentations in this particular committee over the last dozen years that I've been party to and I've never seen this before.
Mr Christopherson: I think that's the point. Even their friends have been in here and admitted that they would have preferred to have -- and they said it in much softer language, and that's understandable -- the amendments too so they knew what they were commenting on.
When we start talking about what's insulting to people, what's insulting is this sham of a process where the government is not really interested in listening. They're interested in putting up a front that suggests that they're listening and we know of course that they're not.
I want to get to the quality-of-care issue also, but I want to mention that the Ontario Hospital Association was here before you. They said, "Hospitals are in a period of intense and rapid restructuring accompanied by massive budget reductions." Yet to the listen to the government, you'd think that the biggest crisis facing hospitals right now is the possibility of labour problems as a result of their ill-conceived, massive restructuring that's going on.
Could I ask you, what's happening right now on the floor of hospitals in terms of the effect on health care as a result of the budget cuts that have already taken place?
Ms Wahl: I can start with that. I think many of you have read about it in the newspapers and seen it on your local television. We have insufficient staff in many cases. We have people moving through hospitals at a record pace. We have had 10,000 layoffs of registered nurses, so we know that the same number of people are sick in Ontario and we know that there are 10,000 fewer registered nurses to provide care for them.
There are alternatives that can be provided. As a nurses' association we have suggested for over a year that the government face moving to an integrated delivery system, that significant savings can be achieved that way as well as enhanced quality patient care, as people don't have to receive care in various silos of the health care system. We believe that's the direction we need to move in, because patients will continue to be ill. The number of people who are ill is steadily increasing and we need to make fundamental changes to how health care is delivered. Dealing with labour issues at the one end is not going to provide the solution.
Mr Christopherson: Is it not also fair to say that if we're going to survive the massive restructuring that is going on in health care across the province, the money that's saved from any kind of restructuring needs to be reinvested back into the communities in order to provide the community-based health care? To date, we aren't seeing that investment; we aren't seeing those announcements.
Ms Wahl: We have concerns about that, but even moneys that are reinvested into the community are being reinvested in a piecemeal fashion. We believe they should be moving to integration and then the moneys should be invested in an integrated fashion rather than the way it's happening now.
Mr Christopherson: When people listen to the government say "ability to pay as a criterion," it sounds reasonable to an awful lot of them. They say ability to pay is a standard measure in any kind of negotiations. But you're raising the issue that if that's the only matter to be considered, what happens at the quality-of-care end? You're saying, if I understand correctly, that if you're going to have an emphasis on the financial end, you've got to have an equal emphasis on what happens to the health care delivery that's available to citizens at the time that this criterion is being applied. Is that correct?
Ms Wahl: Absolutely.
Mr Christopherson: Again, why is that so important to you?
Ms Wahl: Because if the only criterion is the economic criterion, then the issues that we believe to be very important that lead to good patient outcomes are not being considered. You can just think of personal situations where if the only thing driving it is economics, the person in your family is not going to get the care that may be required.
What needs to be considered is whole care for the community, good outcomes, better health for the entire community, and you can't drive that by just changing the economics in one portion of the health care system. If you make changes in one area, then you have to compensate somewhere else.
Our main area of compensation that we feel is being neglected terribly at this point in time is the whole issue of prevention, with a reduction of public health nurses, with patients being in hospital such a short period of time that they don't receive any teaching that would keep them well and prevent them from coming into the hospital again on another occasion.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much for your presentation. Sir, you've been at this for quite some time, I take it from your comments. I wonder if you could tell me which committee in the past, when you were making a presentation, already had the amendments before it.
Mr Nousiainen: I've certainly seen some amendments brought forward, as I recall, in some of the committee proceedings that I've been involved in either during or very shortly after, but they've been very, very minor amendments, not wholesale amendments. Essentially many of these amendments are usually sort of technical amendments where something has been missed or there was a loophole found. In fact, we've found a few loopholes which have found themselves into the amendments, but wholesale amendments like this -- we basically don't know what we're addressing here.
Mr Maves: So you've never seen a full body of amendments before a committee that you've been making presentations to?
Mr Nousiainen: Never of this scope or scale, ever.
Mr Maves: You've never had a full slate of amendments before you when you were making a presentation?
Mr Nousiainen: I'm sorry, I don't understand your question.
Mr Maves: In almost every bill that I've ever been involved with, in some cases ministers make statements beforehand about some changes they're going to make. The amendments don't appear. They appear afterwards, with the rest of the bulk of the amendments. I'm just --
Mr Nousiainen: As I say, they were usually technical things. I've never seen anything like this. That's all.
Mr Maves: Thank you. Did you have amendments when you made a presentation to the NDP government during public hearings on the social contract?
Mr Nousiainen: I wasn't present at that particular hearing.
Mr Maves: They didn't have them, actually, would be the answer. Sorry for that; it's really not fair for me to get partisan with you, but I just wanted to point that out in response to Mr Christopherson's comments.
Ms Lesley Bell: Before you move on, I think we need to examine this process. The issue isn't the amendments coming forward; it's the fact that the government has fundamentally changed its direction on the bill. What we need to know is where that's heading before we can comment on it. You're bringing up a point that technically is right, but you're missing the overall need to comment on the fundamental changes in the legislation, not technical amendments.
Mr Maves: Part of your submission was that there were consultations. The reason the NDP didn't have public hearings on the social contract was because they said they had consultations beforehand with labour, which we have done. It's the same thing.
Mr Christopherson: You did not.
Mr Maves: We've had consultations and we've agreed to make some changes. One of the changes I want to mention to you is in the minister's speech she said: "We heard concerns from other organizations, such as the Ontario Nurses' Association, regarding the importance of continuing specialized bargaining units for professional staff. We will be addressing these concerns." You are happy about that direction, I take it?
Ms Bell: We're very supportive of the comments and look forward to seeing the actual wording of the amendment, which is more critical than just the comments.
Mr Newman: I want to thank the ONA for coming before the committee this morning. On page 2 of your brief it says: "If the government hoped that Bill 136 could reduce the cost, complexity and the time that it takes to conclude collective agreements, Bill 136 will lead directly to the opposite result. Stability will not be enhanced. Chaos will be created."
A previous presenter, the OHA, referred to chaos already existing within the system and made reference to the ONA when they said in their presentation: "The Toronto Hospital is the result of a merger of the former Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals in October 1986. Eleven years later, the hospital has finally reached an agreement with the Ontario Nurses' Association to combine the seniority lists of its bargaining units at the two sites with some restrictions." Then they go on to say, "However, CUPE still refuses to combine its bargaining units."
They're saying there will be chaos without Bill 136, you're saying there's chaos with Bill 136. Where do you see nurses and hospital workers being without Bill 136? Is there not going to be mass confusion?
Ms Wahl: There certainly is that one example which absolutely is extreme. However, we do have article 10 in our rationalization agreement in our collective agreement under the Labour Relations Act that deals with that. Remember we said we have 500 collective agreements. There are many examples across the province where things have moved very quickly, smoothly, to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. So there is one example, but we could point to dozens of others where things have moved quickly and efficiently.
Ms Bell: We also need to examine the chaos that we're talking about, and I think it's two different categories of chaos. We're talking about chaos as it relates to central bargaining and chaos as it relates to patient care and quality care outcomes. The issues are a bit different. The one example they've cited doesn't recognize that we recognized it as a problem and negotiated with the OHA central language that deals with rationalization and that was on the books long before any suggested Bill 136 came into existence.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Our time has expired. On behalf of all of the members of the committee, I would like to thank you for taking the time to come before us this morning with your views on this bill.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES
The Chair: I now call upon representatives of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Good morning, and welcome.
Mr Sid Ryan: Let me begin by introducing the people with me here today. Judy Darcy is the national president of CUPE, and Julie Davis is our director of staff in Ontario; she also sat at the table with the government bureaucrats dealing with the changes to Bill 136.
I'd like to say right up front about the way we have dealt with this bill, the way the government has dealt with us, clearly I think the signal is going out from workers in this province that they're fed up with the bullying tactics of this government. We're hearing that loud and clear from the public. They're sick and tired of the bullying tactics. I think what you've seen in the last number of weeks, the mobilization particularly of CUPE's 180,000 members and to strike votes, we've got an 87% strike mandate to deal with this piece of legislation.
I would like to put you on notice that the labour movement today has made a decision that they're going to be supporting the school teachers in this province. If this government wants to take on the school teachers, they will have the rest of the labour movement, 460,000 members, to deal with as well. We are not being split apart from the school teachers in this province. We're dealing with 136 and the school teacher legislation as one package and we will not be demobilizing our members until such time as we see that teachers in this province have been treated also with dignity and respect.
Let me go on to say that the Canadian Union of Public Employees represents 460,000 workers and is the largest union in Canada. In Ontario, CUPE represents 180,000 workers, most of whom work for health care facilities, municipalities, school boards, universities, social services, libraries, public utilities, broadcasting, airlines and other institutions providing services to the public.
Participants in these public hearings are faced with discussing phantom legislation. That is not an easy task. The way in which the government has been dealing with 136 makes a mockery of the hearings. The Minister of Labour announced that Bill 136 would be substantially amended. Unfortunately, the actual wording of these amendments will not be released until after these public hearings are over. Everyone is faced with trying to address a bill that is not clear and amendments that are not certain.
People participating in a public forum of this kind should have an opportunity to argue for or against specific provisions that will be dealt with in the Legislature. We implore the minister to make the proposed amendments public, so that we can properly debate the contents of the actual bill.
Since we do not have the actual amendments to the bill, we must respond to the minister's statements. She promised that the Dispute Resolution Commission and the Labour Relations Transition Commission would be eliminated. This submission will not address these features of the legislation because we assume that the minister will not go back on her word.
The government has not kept its promise to hold public hearings across this province. Bill 136 affects public sector workers from Kenora to Kingston and from Windsor to Ottawa. Public hearings should be held across the province.
Since we do not have the amendments promised by the Minister of Labour, we will present our position on the substance of the minister's statement, the elements of Bill 136 that she has indicated will remain, and information provided to us by the government.
When the government was introducing Bill 136, it indicated that it was an extraordinary piece of legislation that suspended, on a temporary basis, such acknowledged fundamental rights as free collective bargaining.
The government suggested that the bill was urgently required because existing legislation was incapable of resolving collective bargaining issues that would arise as a result of the restructuring of Ontario's broader public sector. A review of the labour relations history in this province clearly suggests otherwise, and I'd like Sister Judy Darcy to make some comments.
Ms Judy Darcy: As we all know, regional municipal governments were created in Ontario in the 1970s without the help of Bill 136, hospitals have been restructured in this province already without the help of Bill 136, and I would add from a national perspective that in every single province across this country school boards, municipalities and hospitals have been merging and amalgamating and restructuring, again without anything that begins to resemble Bill 136.
The government says the bill is necessary to deal with an anticipated flurry of strikes, but recent labour history would suggest otherwise. If restrictions on the right to strike are still being contemplated, we ask you to take a long, hard look at the fact that in our union alone over 700 collective agreements have been negotiated in the last 18 months or so and in that time period only 2% of those resulted in any kind of labour dispute and most of those were resolved very quickly. The evidence is very clear that Ontario does not need anything resembling Bill 136 to address restructuring.
Our role as a union is of course to protect the collective agreements of our members, some of whom are among the lowest-paid workers in the province. We're not talking about fat cats here, we're talking about some of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in Ontario, and we're still deeply concerned that this government may use the legislation to weaken our collective agreements.
We're concerned that the Ministry of Labour will be given a new interventionist role with respect to arbitrations, and this from a government that says it believes that we should be getting government off our backs, but ironically, that doesn't seem to apply in the field of labour relations. CUPE cannot emphasize enough that such interference from Queen's Park will lead to massive labour unrest. If it doesn't lead to it in the course of this bill or before this bill is passed, if in fact what is contemplated is serious intervention in the arbitration process in collective bargaining, then such labour unrest will result after Bill 136 as the parties engage in the process of arbitration and collective bargaining.
The government is saying it wants the power still to impose criteria and to determine the type of arbitration that is conducted. Instead of traditional arbitration, a system that has worked well in this province, the government is suggesting that mediation arbitration or final offer selection be the order of the day.
We feel very strongly that giving the Ministry of Labour the power to determine the type of arbitration process will undermine the independence of arbitration boards. Mediation arbitration and final-offer selection have major problems associated with them and do not work in most circumstances. We ask you to take a look at the province of Manitoba where final-offer selection has been proven not to work and where neither party is now resorting to it, because it has been proven not to meet anybody's needs.
Respected arbitrators do not favour mediation arbitration. They call it, in arbitral lingo, "splitting the difference" because it induces the board to ignore the merits of individual positions and make an award based on giving a little bit to each side. More troubling is the government position that final-offer selection can be a real option in certain circumstances, because final-offer selection imposes a winner-take-all scenario, and one side ends up bitter and angry at the end of the dispute.
Arbitrators have also made clear in this province that they dislike final-offer selection, because it does not allow them to correct aspects of a package that could cause major labour relations difficulties in the future. Final-offer selection ties the hands of arbitrators and eliminates fairness, and in jurisdictions where the final-offer selection option is open to both workplace parties, as in Manitoba, there has been very little interest in adopting it.
Mr Ryan: Any imposition of final-offer selection or mediation arbitration represents political interference in what should be an impartial process. Ministry officials have told the labour movement that this government is committed to continuing the full unfettered right to strike. If this is the case, there is no need for a criterion that determines whether a strike is in the so-called public interest.
The provincial government does not need enhanced powers to deal with strikes that threaten public health and safety. In an emergency situation, the provincial government always has the option of passing back-to-work legislation. Recourse to strikes and lockouts is part of our democratic heritage. The potential for strikes and lockouts ensures that employers and unions bargain seriously.
The total package of changes proposed for Bill 136 would create an interest arbitration system that is neither fair, impartial, nor independent. Collective agreements would be skewed to meet only the interests of employers. It is up to the board of arbitration to independently weigh evidence presented by both unions and employers and come to a decision. This position is supported by the Catholic Bishops of Ontario, who have already written to the Premier saying that any interference in the impartiality of the arbitration process is unfair and unwarranted and they should tread lightly before they take away those democratic rights from workers who do not have the right to strike.
Bill 136 forces arbitrators to consider legislative criteria in determining their arbitration awards. It adds to the already established criteria which were legislated under Bill 26. CUPE strongly opposes this proposed change. Under Bill 136, arbitrators would have to encourage best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective services that are affordable for taxpayers.
The best practices criterion could be used to skew arbitration in favour of employers. Best practices has been used to compare the cost of services in one workplace with the cost of services in another workplace. More often than not, under best practices, the wage rates and benefit costs in a unionized workplace are compared unfavourably with the wage rates and benefit costs in a non-unionized workplace in which basically you have low wages, no benefits, no pension plans, no sick leave plans.
It is unfair to compare the modest wages of workers in the public sector to the non-unionized sector, who basically have, as I indicated, no benefits whatsoever and no recourse to other than the minimum provided in the Labour Relations Act. Legislated criteria like best practices and ability to pay attempt to force arbitrators to give in to employers' demands for major wage and benefit rollbacks.
Ms Darcy: History has shown that workers join unions to better their wages and working conditions, and it is an undisputed fact of life that unionized positions do provide better compensation than similar non-union jobs, and no union bargaining team would ever consider non-union rates as a basis for a contract settlement. We will not have our contracts compared to non-union workplaces with low wages and poor working conditions.
We will not be forced to engage in a bidding war where one group of workers is forced to bid against another group of workers saying, "Hey, I'll work for $10 an hour," "I'll work for $8 an hour," "I'll work for $6 an hour," sold to the lowest bidder. We are very concerned that we will be forced into that situation by these criteria. That's not good for our members. It's also not good for our communities because union settlements have been responsible for raising the wages and improving the working conditions of all workers.
Legislated criteria can be used to lower the wages and benefits of essential workers who reach their collective agreements through interest arbitration legislation. It is unfair to deny essential service workers their fundamental right to strike and then also force them to deal with an arbitration board that has been directed, by legislation, to disregard their interests and concerns. That's not fairness; that's tipping the balance against one side.
Arbitration boards must be free to weigh the evidence presented by both parties, without feeling the heavy hand of government. Again, I reiterate, this is a government that says it wants to have less interference in people's lives. You should be true to your word as it affects the interest arbitration system.
Certain mechanisms of the existing arbitration system ensure against bias and against partisan behaviour, and these aspects must absolutely be safeguarded. The appointments process whereby unions and employers must agree on an arbitrator must be protected. Because unions and employers have so much control over who becomes an arbitrator, arbitrators strive to be seen as evenhanded and fair to both sides; otherwise, they won't get work. A whole series of checks and balances ensure that arbitrators remain relatively neutral and attempt to fashion awards that represent a fair balance between the interests of both parties. If the parties cannot agree, the Ministry of Labour appoints an arbitrator from a list of recognized arbitrators.
There has been a long-standing practice of consulting parties before names are added to the list. There has also been a long-standing practice of removing names of those arbitrators who fail to achieve sufficient consensual appointments, that is, where the employer and the union agree, and these present practices should continue. The use of nominees must continue, because nominees, otherwise known as sidespersons, are appointed to advocate on behalf of each of the parties to the dispute. They provide the arbitrator with valuable insight into the dispute and often help to achieve a result that is reasonably satisfactory to all parties.
Mr Ryan: I would like to deal with the expanded role of the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The minister has indicated in her statement that she has accepted the position of the OFL that the Ontario Labour Relations Board is the appropriate body to deal with labour relations issues arising from the restructuring in the broader public sector. We applaud this recognition.
Our endorsement of the OLRB is qualified by our concerns about this government's unprecedented interference in the independence and impartiality of the board. Over the last year, vice-chairs of the board have been dismissed mid-term and the courts have examined whether the board is free from the apprehension of bias because of allegations of ministerial interference in its operation. These actions are unprecedented. Furthermore, it appears that the chair of the board had little or no involvement in the recent decision not to renew the appointments of three long-serving vice-chairs and the appointment of two new vice-chairs.
It is a cornerstone of a democratic society that tribunals such as the Ontario Labour Relations Board be free from governmental interference and influence. Government interference in the OLRB must cease and a return to the previous practice with regard to the appointment of vice-chairs must take place.
The minister's statement left questions about how the OLRB's powers would be expanded to deal with labour relations issues arising out of restructuring. One of those issues relates to the provision in Bill 136 that a composite collective agreement apply during the transition period. This is a recipe for chaos. The collective agreement of the winning bargaining agent should apply to all employees in the new bargaining unit. The union and the employer should have only one collective agreement to administer throughout the transition period.
We are concerned that the government seems to be pursuing unrestricted power to expand the definition of restructuring to any occurrence during the transition period. A government should not be able to alter the scope of a piece of legislation without the appropriate legislative review.
CUPE and other affected parties have been able to resolve seniority issues in the past without the help of a third party. Where disputes may prove difficult to resolve, they should be dealt with by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Rigid, complex legislative rules cannot encompass every possible situation faced by merging workplaces.
Ms Darcy: We believe it is far better for the OLRB to determine seniority issues on a case-by-case basis. Bill 136 imposed thresholds, so votes to determine a bargaining agent would not have to be held in every situation. Ministry officials now say a vote to determine a bargaining agent will occur in every circumstance. We do not need votes to take place in every case. When a small unit of 10 employees is merged with a large bargaining unit of 500 employees, for example, there is clearly no need for a vote to determine the bargaining agent. The process is a waste of time and money, and the scarce resources of the OLRB should not be spent on unnecessary votes. We maintain that the OLRB should determine whether a vote is necessary after assessing each merger situation.
Finally, the minister's statement promised that OPSEU would be on the ballot where crown employees were transferred to another level of government. We have been assured by ministry officials that all bargaining agents representing crown employees would have a similar right and we support that decision.
Bill 136 has a devastating impact on the rights of women in this province to achieve and maintain pay equity. The bill's battering of the scope of the Pay Equity Act is the latest round in this government's ideological assault on equity for women in Ontario. Women's wages will be reduced because of this legislation. Why, for instance, does the government insist on limiting retroactivity for women entitled to a wage adjustment? Isn't this part of Bill 136 a brazen attempt to save costs and let bad bosses continue to cheat women out of decent wages?
The legislation is offensive because it puts the onus on individual women to complain if their rights are being violated. The bill encourages public sector employers to limit their liability by not posting a plan and not informing employees of their rights under the act. Women have been protected by the Pay Equity Act so that their pay equity increases cannot be reduced because of restructuring, yet Bill 136 seeks to remove that protection.
CUPE believes that the provincial government and the Pay Equity Commission should instead see their role as advocating for equality issues and for women's rights. The legislation's complaints-based procedure, and indeed the entire bill, will not further ,and in fact will set back in a major way, the interests of women in the province.
Mr Ryan: I'd like to deal with the wage protection fund. We see absolutely no reason whatsoever for the government to get involved in the elimination of the wage protection fund. Clearly this has had no impact on restructuring and will have no impact on the restructuring process. We are deeply disturbed about the complete elimination of the wage protection program. The program was designed to help employees who did not have a viable claim for severance and termination pay when their employers went bankrupt, because of the provisions of the Bankruptcy Act. The wage protection fund would provide some money to cover lost wages. The cost of this program to the government was tiny. The government is mean-spirited to abolish such an important benefit for unemployed workers, many of whom face devastation once they have lost a permanent job.
In conclusion, the Canadian Union of Public Employees remains very concerned about Bill 136. We urge the government to make progressive amendments to this legislation, or better yet, withdraw Bill 136 in order to ensure fairness and balance in the labour relations environment in Ontario.
Ms Darcy: Finally, let me just reiterate our main recommendations: (1) that government interference in the OLRB cease and that a return to the consensual appointment of vice-chairs to the board be immediately implemented; (2) we agree with the government's stated position that there will be no limitations on the right to strike; (3) that the collective agreement of a winning bargaining agent apply to all employees in a new bargaining unit; (4) that binding arbitration remain fair, independent and impartial, with no government intervention or interference; (5) that binding arbitration remain fair, independent and impartial, including the selection of arbitrators to go on the list or roster; and (6) that pay equity increases be protected to ensure that the rights of the women of Ontario are not violated.
Thank you again for the opportunity to make a presentation. We welcome any questions.
The Chair: We have time for three minutes of questioning from each caucus. We'll begin with the NDP caucus.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. The government is suggesting that the reason they're backing down is because they've been listening and they care and they want to be fair to everybody, and yet we know that if they were really serious about listening, they would have met with you before they dropped Bill 136 on the floor of the Legislature, where you then could have presented the very alternatives the government has now adopted. I think anyone who thinks that through will realize they aren't making these changes because they care and because they're listening. I'd like to ask you why you think they have made the announcements that they have.
Mr Ryan: You mean the changes that they have? Clearly, they responded to almost half a million workers saying that we're not going to put up with this type of abuse, taking away, for no apparent reason, rights we have had for 50 years. We have demonstrated in the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which is the major employee group in the broader public sector, that we have had hardly any strikes in normal negotiations, let alone when it comes to restructuring. We have not had one single strike anywhere in the history of this province when it comes to mergers or amalgamations. We went even further. We checked right across Canada, because we're a Canadian union, and we could not find one example of any workplace ever having a strike. So the rationale for the introduction of this legislation was bogus. We're obviously horrified.
But they did go and consult with the employer community. Here is legislation that affects half a million workers. They didn't take the time to pick up a telephone and ask the CUPE membership what we think about the legislation; they went straight to the employer community, solicited input from the employer community and of course came up with a bill that was completely skewed in favour of employers. Is it any wonder that half a million workers in this province are absolutely outraged at this bill?
Mr Christopherson: Also, you talk about the phantom legislation. I suspect you may hear from the government -- we certainly have in other presentations -- "Look, it's not normal and it's not usual that amendments would be in front of the public before they have had a chance to listen." Of course we know that this one week here in Toronto is a breach of the promise to travel the province. In fact there is not enough time, given the end of the hearings is Friday at 5 pm and by 10 am Monday morning we have to have the amendments in, in legalese.
I want to ask you -- I know that each of you has made numerous presentations -- have you ever seen a piece of legislation so thoroughly gutted and changed before the hearings began as we have here in 136? Have you ever seen anything like it before?
Ms Darcy: No, we have not, and I have not seen it, as national president of CUPE, having been involved in making presentations to legislative committees across the province on a whole host of legislation. But the fundamental issue here is that we still need to see the fine print because we're not convinced, and we won't be convinced until we see the fine print, that those changes have really been made.
We are still deeply concerned about whether we have a fair and impartial arbitration system, it is not at all clear that pay equity as it has stood before still exists, and there is absolutely no justification under the rubric of restructuring in Ontario to attack pay equity. There are several issues there that are still really important. The government is making public pronouncements about having moved drastically. We hope that's true, but we won't know it until we see the fine print, and we're still deeply worried.
Mr Christopherson: I say to you and all the people in the labour movement, you've given a lot of hope to people that you can take on these bullies and win, and for that we thank you very much.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Mr Ryan and Ms Darcy, how many days of hearings or how many standing committees on resources development or justice did you come before regarding the social contract when it was initiated by the NDP in 1992-93?
Mr Ryan: We may not have liked the social contract, but let me assure you of this much: We were certainly involved in dialogue face to face with everybody from the Premier on down to ministers responsible, right throughout the government. We didn't like the answers we got at the end of the process, but we at least had input for several months. On a daily basis we met with government officials and we met with ministerial officials and we met with cabinet ministers, unlike your government, which didn't have the courtesy to pick up the telephone and solicit input from the representatives of 180,000 members in this province and from half a million workers. You didn't have the decency to pick up a telephone and ask for our input.
Mr Hastings: Did you get the expected outcome of the social contract?
Ms Darcy: With respect, Mr Hastings, we weren't happy with that process or that bill, but one lousy --
Mr Hastings: You weren't. Thank you.
Ms Darcy: One second. But one bad bill doesn't justify an even worse bill. I think we should be putting the focus back on the bill that's in front of this committee, which is the present one. Much as we didn't like the social contract, this one is far, far worse. So let's talk about what is in front of us right now, not go back in history.
Mr Gilchrist: I will get back to the bill, but there's a quote from 1993 that must be put on the record: "Leaders of the 170,000-member Ontario division of CUPE say they will not participate in the social contract negotiations because that 'would give legitimacy to a process that's stacked against unions.'" That was Ms Darcy. Mr Ryan, you may have made those phone calls, but Ms Darcy put on the record that she wasn't even going to be part of it.
The bottom line is -- let met get this straight -- initially you said, "Don't touch our successor rights or collective agreement contracting-out." You got both. You asked for the Labour Relations Transition Commission to be replaced by the OLRB. You got it. You asked for the elimination of the Dispute Resolution Commission and a return to the previous interest arbitration regime. You got it. You asked for the removal of potential restriction on the right to strike. You got it.
Now it's our understanding that you want to move the goalposts again. So after listening, after responding, now it's the education bill. If there are accommodations made there, what's next? Gasoline pricing? This is a political act, Mr Ryan. You know full well you've been spoiling for a fight and you are going to use any excuse to do it. You keep haranguing and haranguing and even when we listen -- at the start of this process you said, "They'll never listen." Well, we listened and we responded and all you've done is come back with new demands.
The fact of the matter is, neither the NDP nor the Liberals who have had the bill since June 3 have tabled any amendments, even if the amendments were to say: "Delete this section. Delete this section. Delete this section." So the pious protests from the other side and the suggestion that somehow the amendments come before we listen to people are utterly preposterous. The NDP hasn't brought forward any amendments and they can't accuse us of abusing the system any more or less than them.
The bottom line is, the amendments come at the end of the process. Thank you for coming before us, but you didn't surprise us. This is all a political rant.
Mr Ryan: You know, Mr Gilchrist, your phoney moral outrage doesn't impress anybody at this end of the table, I can assure you. Your government has attacked workers in this province every single day for the last two and a half years, including taking away basic health and safety rights that we've got --
The Chair: Sorry, Mr Ryan. The time has expired. Mr Patten, if you would, please.
Mr Patten: If anybody is ever spoiling for a fight, Mr Gilchrist, you'd fill the bill, believe me.
The understanding about how this system works: The bill has been dramatically changed and every single group except one, the Ontario Hospital Association, has said that they are either handicapped or they're inhibited by not having the specificity that's required to address exactly what it's going to mean.
Presumably you've have some discussions with the minister and with government officials. I must tell you I have some concerns about this as well, especially when we talk about transferring the power from the old, presumably discarded transition commission now to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. However, my understanding is that lock, stock and barrel, the criteria that were with the commission are still with the board now and that changes the manner in which they would proceed. It would be not in the traditional way in which they've been able to resolve disputes to this point. Is that your understanding as well?
Ms Darcy: Yes, it is. Our understanding is that the criteria are still in the bill and the purpose clause remains unchanged. We are deeply concerned about that. I want to build on that to go back to what Mr Gilchrist said. It may be convenient for you, sir, to accuse us of moving the goalposts. The fact is, the presentation we have made to you here today reiterates issues we have raised from the beginning of the process.
I ask you to listen, and listen hard, to the conclusion we made to our presentation and the issues we highlighted, because the issue of neutrality of arbitrators and if they're still being dictated to with these criteria -- we still have concerns. We said that from day one. From day one we said we had concerns about pay equity. We still have concerns about pay equity. We hope that restrictions on the right to strike are gone. That's not a new concern.
Please, let's not raise bogeypeople here in order to throw us off track. We've got Bill 136 in front of us. We'd like to hear what you have to say in response to the serious concerns we still have.
The Chair: With that, we thank you very much. All members of the committee appreciate your advice this morning. This committee will stand recessed. We'll reconvene this afternoon at 3:30.
The committee recessed from 1204 to 1530.
The Chair: Good afternoon, everyone. The standing committee on resources development is called to order. We are gathered together this afternoon for the purposes of listening to deputations on Bill 136.
Mr Patten: Chair, I wonder if I could, very quickly, without taking time away from our witnesses, get an update on teleconferencing. I understand there are a couple of places that were on the list that we're not going to be able to have.
The Chair: We'll ask Mr Arnott to update you on that.
Clerk Pro Tem (Mr Doug Arnott): Teleconferencing facilities have been arranged for three locations for tomorrow. Those locations are Ottawa in the morning, Kincardine in the afternoon and Thunder Bay in the evening. Witnesses have been notified of the locations, have been scheduled to a great extent; we're still working on the schedules. I expect to have revised agendas for the committee members by this evening.
Mr Patten: In Kirkland Lake there were three that I'm aware of, a firefighter and teachers from two different boards. Will they get a chance to make representation?
Clerk Pro Tem: If they have not yet been scheduled in one of those locations, I would not expect so.
Mr Patten: I should be asking the Chair this, I guess. These people would have to go to Thunder Bay. What happens if they want to make a presentation and they have notified us, but we haven't had the capacity? Are you going to pay for them to go to Thunder Bay?
The Chair: I have instructed the clerk that if affordability of transportation to a site was a concern, we would accommodate that.
Just so everyone on the committee is aware, for the individual witnesses, the clerk's office is first going through the list that each caucus has submitted, based on the larger list of all the presenters who offered to appear before the committee, and they're filling in from those lists first.
Mr Christopherson: Yesterday there was discussion around notification, which to me was a joke, given the amount of time, but that doesn't abdicate the government from being responsible for lack thereof. Can I ask, besides the lists that were submitted, how we went about asking people in that community and letting it be known they could make presentations before this committee through your electronic wizardry?
The Chair: I think the first choice is always to the list of people who have previously offered, through the clerk's office, to appear in various communities. The clerk, as I understand it, will look at those lists first.
Do you have anything to add to that?
Clerk Pro Tem: That's correct.
Mr Christopherson: But my question is, how were those communities advised that they could ask to be put on the list? Some people know enough about the process that they do it automatically; they know a bill is introduced, and the list sits there and grows over a period of weeks. In this case, since there is so little time, we don't know how much the word got out. How much exposure was there in those communities to let individuals and organizations know there was this opportunity?
The Chair: There was some discussion about advertising yesterday. There was no motion on the floor to direct me to actually go out and advertise, so as I said, we looked first to the list of people. There are a great number of people who are interested. Naturally, we followed the same procedures as we always do, that is, we consulted the list of people who had offered to be witnesses first. Beyond that, we have not advertised. If that's what you're specifically asking, no, we have not advertised in each community because of the shortness of time.
Mr Christopherson: I don't want to belabour the point, because anybody who is following this will know clearly what has gone on and what a farce all this is. I just want to respond to your statement -- I appreciate why you would say that's the usual procedure. I just say again that there is absolutely nothing usual about the procedure being done here. We have never seen anything like this in committee consultation, or what is supposed to pass for that, in the history of Ontario. We continue to see that time and time again with this government, as they shut down the democratic process, both for opposition members and for communities.
The Chair: It behooves me to indicate that we're following customary procedure in that we are asking people who are on the list of each caucus. We're choosing a third of the presenters recommended by each of the caucuses, so it's a third from the government, a third from the official opposition and a third from the third party, from your party. That comes from the lists of the people who, as is the custom, phone the clerk's office to be booked for hearings on any number of public bills.
Mr Christopherson: I realize you're doing the best you can. Aside from the fact that you are one of them, you're trying to do the best you can in terms of chairing this. I'm not trying to find fault with you. You can only deal with the mess that the majority on the government back bench has foisted on the rest of us. But I want to make it clear that any suggestion that anything is usual or traditional or normal about this process is totally unacceptable, as is readily apparent to anybody who has been following this even marginally.
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): It's your opinion, not shared.
Mr Christopherson: I think you'll find a whole lot of people share that opinion.
The Chair: The time line is extremely short, but the process itself is very similar to what is normally followed, the process I'm aware of.
Mr Maves: Since they have decided to engage in a debate on the whole process, it's only fair to note that during a subcommittee meeting last week, I tried to move a motion that would allow discussion of how we would carry on procedures if the two opposition parties' motions didn't carry through committee; everyone knew it was probably quite likely that they wouldn't carry. Had they agreed to that, most of these scheduling problems that we had last night and the scheduling problems that we may or may not be having in teleconferencing would probably have been alleviated. It's only fair to put that on the record.
Mr Christopherson: No. I want to respond to that. That's not true. You can argue whether you think we should have had that discussion or not. The reality is that the subcommittee, by procedure, is allowed to take a majority position, which is exactly what happened. You should have built that into your time frame, because no matter how much you try, we still have a few rights around here.
The other thing is that even if we had had that discussion, the time frame between Thursday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon is not anywhere near the normal time. Normally -- and you know this, Bart -- we will have discussions even a couple of weeks before we start advertising, and the advertising goes out there for about a week or two before people respond, and then the process the Chair has talked about kicks in. You have set all that aside, wiped it aside with the back of your hand, and rammed this thing through. You just make yourself look foolish trying to defend it otherwise.
Mr Maves: Thursday and Friday, if the clerk had been allowed to start the process, we wouldn't have had a problem with blank spaces yesterday.
Mr Christopherson: You can't say that. Any blank spaces are the ones over there on the government side.
Mr Maves: Then you filibustered all day Monday and Tuesday morning.
The Chair: Colleagues, please. We can go back and forth over this. The fact of the matter is that we have guests who are prepared to make presentations to us. It's only right that we ask them to come forward. I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that we have Hansard. We thank the Hansard people, who have prepared this for us quickly. It is available for us to share with constituents or with any parties who might be interested.
Mr Christopherson: On that point, I would ask that we also send it out in advance to people who have confirmed that they are coming, if we can get a fax number from them and send that out as quickly as possible. This is the closest thing we have to detailed information, so it's important that people have it.
The Chair: It's my understanding that the clerk's office is indicating that there is material available and they are making available whatever they wish to receive, so this would be added to that list.
Mr Christopherson: Great. That's fine.
AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION, CANADIAN COUNCIL
The Chair: I call upon our first witness this afternoon, representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union, Canadian Council. Mr Parkin, welcome.
Mr Tom Parkin: I have given everybody a written copy of my comments. If there are spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, it's because, with the time, I can only be as quick as I can. We were discussing some of the matters that apparently are going to be for your input with government members yesterday at this time. I was called by the clerk's assistant yesterday afternoon, requesting me to come to sit on your committee last night, which was just not possible for me, given that I have other commitments. I was narrowly able to make this time. I had meetings this morning, which gave me only a two-hour break to try to put this presentation together. This process is far from helpful to us in being able to raise the points we're trying to raise and that I think we've succeeded in raising over the last few months.
At any rate, I want to start by telling you that free collective bargaining is an essential aspect of our society; it is a democratic aspect of our society. Where a work disruption would cause a threat to public health or safety, a fair, independent and neutral arbitration system is required. Free collective bargaining is and always should be preferred over arbitration unless work stoppages would imperil public health or safety. This is simply because the costs involved are less from the dues-paying and tax-paying members of our society. Second, it's a process that works without state intervention, a process that works its way out. We should not see any need for government to intrude where no intrusion is necessary.
Despite this, Bill 136, as proposed originally by the Conservative government -- as I say, we don't have any clue what we are discussing here today, because that has not been made available to me or anyone else. Bill 136 in the form originally proposed would have swept hundreds of thousands of people into an arbitration system for no apparent reason, and it would have taken them, therefore, out of the free collective bargaining system. This was justified to us and the public on the basis that there could be work stoppages due to the magnitude of and confusion caused by your restructuring agenda.
There is no logic behind this, because there has been restructuring in the public sector forever. I can think back a few years to when London was restructured or the hospitals in Windsor were restructured. We didn't need Bill 136 for that. Everything worked out quite nicely. There were bumps and scrapes along the way, but there were certainly no work disruptions. There was certainly no threat of any sort in that matter. That was an effective and efficient way of dealing with things, and it showed good public policy. This does not. There has never been work stoppage caused by restructuring, so the premise that you put this bill to us on simply doesn't hold.
Simply the fact that it is unneeded legislation doesn't make it evil or wicked legislation, but in fact this is wicked legislation, as it was originally proposed. I want to point out four reasons why.
(1) It politicizes the arbitration system and it politicizes the collective bargaining system in this province. That's an unnecessary and I think a very dangerous precedent.
(2) It was trying to force the members of our organization into a system where they were going to pay for your download and your tax cut. That's simply not fair.
(3)It was an affront to issues of freedom of choice of representation in the way that bargaining unit and bargaining agent transition was to occur.
(4) There were some important principles about wage protection and about equal pay for equal work that were wiped out by this bill.
Bill 136, as it was proposed, attempted to pass the download through to us by creating a non-neutral and non-independent arbitration system. First, it eliminated the current consensual roster of arbitrators and replaced them with your handpicked appointees from cabinet. That was just not acceptable, because it biased the independence. Further, these people were not even given any independence should they decide to take that tack against you; they could have been removed at your behest. There was a real flaw in the logic of what arbitration should be. It should be independent and neutral, because that's what the free collective bargaining system is. If you're going to get rid of that, the system of state intervention that you produce must be fair and independent. You didn't do that on the first count.
On the second count, in the proposed bill you forced arbitrators to follow legislative guidelines, your political objectives. That's not right. That's not fair. That's not taking the free collective bargaining system and replacing it with an independent and neutral arbitration system; that's replacing it with an arbitration system where you're telling the arbitrators what to do. That's wrong. That's not good industrial relations.
The issue of the right to choice by employees was also a problem for us. I'll outline the four points I've got here.
First, the jurisprudence on the definition of what an appropriate bargaining unit is: There is long-established jurisprudence on this. None the less, you overrode it. You aimed to negate the choices that were made by groups of workers and attempted to impose or are attempting to impose -- I don't know -- your own definition of what an appropriate bargaining unit is. But this time it says, not "appropriate for collective bargaining purposes," but rather, in the words of your legislation, "appropriate for the successor employer." This is exactly the point you really are missing here, that the whole system of free collective bargaining, or arbitration where there is peril to health and safety in the case of work stoppage, is not for the employer or the employees; it's for the system and the success of the system to continue. Yet in your legislation right up front you say that the bargaining unit should be appropriate for the successor employer, wiping out the clause that said, "for the purposes of collective bargaining."
In our mind, this not only overrode the LRB jurisprudence, it showed disdain for the shown wishes of workers who chose bargaining units. It also sets up a two-track system, where we've got one program going on in the private sector and another one for people who are now subject to this legislation.
Second, your insertion of the legislated threshold in representation votes denies the right of workers to make their case to the Labour Relations Board regarding which bargaining agent should be on the ballot and why. There are always cases at the margin. You took away the right -- or you aim to take away the right, and we don't know what you're doing now. You aim to take away the right of people to have a hearing on these matters. These are important matters, about who is going to represent whom. That's fundamental to a democratic society. You tried to take that away.
You tried to take away the right to a hearing. You tried to take away the right to natural justice in those hearings. If that kind of thinking was applied to a court of this land -- and the labour board is a quasi-court -- the Supreme Court would have just said that your law is no good. But that's what you tried to do.
You also attempted to take away the choice of workers to choose some bargaining agents, to have options on the ballot that included every option. You tried to take that right away from them too by taking the name of unions representing former crown employers off a representation ballot. You can't just take a political party off the election ballot, and you can't take a union off the representation ballot. That's unfair.
You also aimed to take away the wage protection program, which ensured that workers, particularly in the private sector, got paid if their employer went bankrupt. As you know, in the federal legislation -- I'll point out to members of the Liberal caucus that at one time your federal cousins promised to get rid of these changes to federal legislation that placed workers at the back of the line in case there was a bankruptcy in the company they worked for, placing everybody else, the creditors, the landlord, the tax man, ahead of them. But the previous government did implement the employment wage protection program, and that delivered some fairness. Now you're taking it away. We don't accept that as being right.
Similarly, you're retroactively rolling back pay equity almost 10 years on the issue of people who work in the private child care industry.
We all know that there have been some discussions going on in some places. We're not sure what the term is for these discussions. But what we are told at this point is that there will be massive amendments to this bill. We haven't seen any of these amendments. That makes it very difficult for me to stand here today in this most unusual process and tell you what I think of them, but I'll try.
To our latest understanding, Bill 136 will still bias arbitration by inserting legislative criteria directing arbitrators rather than retaining the independence of arbitrators. This is not acceptable, and the transit union will stand behind those workers who are forced into a biased arbitration system. It will, as my understanding is, still take away the right of choice for workers' bargaining units. I'll return to this point. It will eliminate the employee wage protection program. It will retroactively roll back equal pay for equal work.
Although the government heard this storm of protest and quickly promised these amendments, your cave-in on several points cannot really be considered a win for us, because you haven't done anything to help our members and help the employees of Ontario seek fairness in their workplace. You haven't done anything to avoid employers' use of scabs. You haven't done anything to restore injured workers' pensions or the organizations that sought to reduce injuries on the job. You haven't done anything to get back the right to choose a union, if they wish, for people who are domestics or people who are in the farm factory industries. You haven't done anything to maintain the union of choice for those who are being privatized out of the crown. These are all things you've taken away. You're not putting any of that back. You're just taking more away, so this is a big negative for us and we can't ever remember it as anything but that.
There never was a need for Bill 136, not the way you spoke of it, and we continue to say today that there was no need for 136. You are pledging to modify 136, and we understand that, but I hope you understand that the Ontario Federation of Labour special convention called for the withdrawal of 136; it didn't call for amendments around the edges or taking off this and that, cherry-picking this legislation. It said to withdraw, and we offered an alternative way of dealing with the problems that you up front said might be problems in restructuring. You didn't accept those. You chose to amend Bill 136 after you realized the storm of protest that was about to come upon you. I guess nothing has really changed. We're still saying, withdraw 136. We're still saying look at the alternative ways there are of doing it, and you're not accepting that, so here we are.
I don't want to spend a lot of time on the teachers' legislation, but it is pertinent to this discussion right here right now. We're disturbed by the indications that the government has, by legislation, reduced the issues to be considered bargainable. We find this to be a fearful intrusion. Experience from across the border has shown that when governments move to restrict workers and employees from talking about some issues, that can lead to poor results over the issues that remain. Limiting what is allowed to be discussed is a destabilizing intrusion by government into areas in which it has no business.
Also it is worrying that, as we understand, government may be able to intervene in disputes without the use of special purpose legislation, as I believe is the requirement in every other Canadian jurisdiction. Government power through regulation takes the debate over what serves the public interest out of the public sphere and puts it behind your closed doors. Free collective bargaining is an essential feature of our democratic society and can only be overridden where there is a threat to public health and safety. That's an established principle that I hope we adhere to. If you want to eliminate the right of teachers to free collective bargaining simply because it is inconvenient, please don't tell me you're going to do that by regulation, because that is an offence.
I indicated that I wanted to get back to the issue of appropriate bargaining units, because we do have a particular concern that perhaps you can address. When a group of employees wishes to form a union, a bargaining unit, that wish is respected by the labour board with the proviso that the bargaining unit must be appropriate for collective bargaining. Those are the terms under the current OLRA. The meaning of this term has been elucidated by 50 years of jurisprudence.
In cases where workplaces, either through the sale of a business or the amalgamation of a public agency, are joined, these bargaining units are maintained. Only if there is a so-called intermingling of the workforces from the previous workplaces can the LRB order a representation vote. Under existing law we also have deemed intermingling in the municipal sector, where the workforces are deemed to intermingle and therefore can be subject to an LRB-ordered vote.
These provisions serve to consolidate bargaining units into structures appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining. But now you're introducing a new test, in section 24 of schedule B, requiring the units to be "appropriate for the successor employer."
I stress that the goal of labour relations is not to please employers or employees; it is to facilitate the process of collective bargaining where groups of workers have made the choice to do that. It is that point that I think you missed off the top and why, perhaps unexpectedly, you got into trouble. To the members of the government caucus, I ask you to remove section 24 of schedule B. Let the jurisprudence of 50 years hold. Let's remember that the goal of labour law is not to take sides but to maintain the efficiency, effectiveness and fairness of collective bargaining.
On a related matter, where there are representation votes due to intermingling, let's make sure that workers have a true choice between bargaining agents. Groups of workers who never indicated any lack of support for their union must be permitted to support that union in a representation vote caused by intermingling if that is their choice. Eliminating a choice from the ballot without their consent is simply not fair.
The context of the election must be fair. If some sections of an agreement -- language on job postings, grievance procedure and other central processes -- are to pertain to all members of the new bargaining unit, with the economic matters to be red-circled or siloed, as the concept is coming to us, then the LRB must be allowed to choose the most appropriate master sections in situations where the union supported in the representation vote has no master section to apply because of their transfer from the crown. This puts everybody voting in a situation of fairness, and it's essential for you to try and make sure that that fairness in votes is followed.
In conclusion, you will hear other issues from other people. I'm not aware if the federation of labour has made its presentation yet or is yet to do that -- Friday, I'm told -- but we have certainly been close with the federation's work all the way through. Areas specifically mentioned here are because they are details that pertain to us specifically, and we certainly hold with them on major issues.
I want to thank you for the opportunity for a hearing. It is appreciated. I must tell you once again that we cannot understand the reason for 136. We must simply continue to tell you that while we've presented you with an alternative to 136, 136 in itself has no value and it should be withdrawn.
I'm open to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have about 12 minutes remaining for questions. That's four minutes per caucus. We'll begin with the government caucus.
Mr Maves: Thank you for you presentation, Mr Parkin. The Amalgamated Transit Union has been involved in some of the discussions of late prior to changes to Bill 136. Were you personally involved in those discussions?
Mr Parkin: Yes.
Mr Maves: How have those discussions been, quite frank?
Mr Parkin: The members of MLO staff have come to us to explain the repositioning that the government has been taking, given the political context of this province right now. They haven't spoken with us in a form of negotiation, nor is that what we want, because we're not interested in negotiating this bill. We're interested in having it taken away. We are offering you an alternative, which you haven't taken up. I just want to make the point to you very clearly that we are not at all being asked for our opinions. We are being presented with your shifting positions as your government continues to try and understand what the heck is going on with the public opposition to this bill.
Mr Maves: You didn't ask for the LRTC to be transferred to the OLRB, then. Is that what you're saying?
Mr Parkin: We asked for the LRTC to be thrown out.
Mr Maves: That the functions of the LRTC be transferred to the OLRB: You didn't ask for that?
Mr Parkin: We asked for the LRTC to be thrown out. We did not ask for it to be thrown out and then LRTC rules applied to the LRB, fettering the LRB. That wasn't what we asked for.
Mr Maves: That's not my understanding from what the OFL has said.
Mr Parkin: Then you're misreading, because I've been there at every stage, my friend.
Mr Maves: You didn't ask for the elimination of the Dispute Resolution Commission and a return to the arbitration regime that exists now?
Mr Parkin: Yes, we asked for the elimination of the DRC. We also asked for the elimination of legislated criteria. You haven't done that.
Mr Maves: You didn't want any compromise, really. You just wanted --
Mr Parkin: There's no reason for this bill. That's what I don't understand.
Mr Maves: Let me approach that one, then. This morning we had the OHA here and they talked to us about a merger that occurred in 1986 between the Toronto Western and the Toronto General hospitals. Eleven years later they still haven't solved all the issues there. Wouldn't you say that's a very good example of why some new processes could be useful, especially when there are amalgamations and mergers in hospitals and municipalities?
Mr Parkin: Mr Maves, did it cause a work stoppage? That's what you were saying. You were saying this was needed to stop work stoppages. It didn't happen. We did say get rid of 136, but we are willing to talk about ways that we can make the existing system faster. That's what we put down in that alternative, and I stand by that. But you didn't accept that. You accepted doing a few cherry-pickings of 136, and we don't accept that.
Mr Maves: Here's the OHA brief: "The functions of the LRTC are and can continue to be performed more effectively and more fairly by the Ontario Labour Relations Board."
Mr Parkin: That's right, so we said get rid of the LRTC, get rid of the rules that apply to the LRTC.
Mr Maves: And its functions can be applied by the OLRB.
Mr Parkin: Yes, if the LRB has its functions as is currently the case. It would not be a transfer; it would be restoration of the current independent system.
Mr Maves: It says the function of the LRTC can be performed more fairly by the OLRB, and that's what we've done.
Mr Parkin: No, you haven't. You don't understand the point.
Mr Maves: We have transferred the functions of the LRTC to the OLRB.
Mr Parkin: The OLRB always had those functions, and now you moved them into a new body, you set a bunch of criteria that you were going to force these people to follow and that were unfair, and now you're going to take away the LRTC and put these unfair criteria against the OLRB. That's not what we asked for at all.
Mr Maves: You talked about legislative overrides, one of them the shown wishes of employees. In the bill we said that unless all the agents agree, there should be a representation vote. How does that take away the wishes of the employees?
Mr Parkin: When a group of people have decided that they want to bargain as a unit and they've got that permission from the LRB, when they've decided that is appropriate for collective bargaining purposes, that's their decision, I think. We should respect that decision. I don't think you can come in with a new piece of legislation that says, "Despite the fact that you don't intermingle with anybody, that there's no intermingling of workforces, we're going to tell you that now you have to be appropriate for the purposes of your new employer." I don't think that's a fair test. I don't think it's about trying to make the bargaining unit appropriate for the employer; it's trying to make the bargaining unit appropriate for collective bargaining. I can't stress that any more strongly.
Mr Maves: In the case of the merger of municipalities, the OLRB would hold a vote in every case with regard to representation, unless all the existing agents agreed on who was going to be the representative. I don't understand how that vote wouldn't show the wishes of those employees.
Mr Parkin: Let me just pitch this to you, Mr Maves. If the President of the United States said, "We're going to get rid of the border between Canada and the United States, but we're going to let you guys vote on who will be the president," would you consider that a fair deal? No. You'd say: "Look, I'm a little different. I have my own interests. I have my own country." That's what we're trying to say. Don't apply a new standard on to what these collective bargaining units should be. They should be for the purposes of collective bargaining, not for the purposes of the new employer. That's not right. That puts a bias into the system.
The Chair: Time's up. We go to the official opposition.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation. You've laid out your position quite clearly. Right off the top I must let you know that you're the fifth presenter today out of six who has stated there is some difficulty with the time-line or with not having the existing amendments before you. Having heard the discussion go back and forth between Mr Maves and you, I can see why it's important to have the amendments before the committee so that people like yourself can respond and know what you're dealing with. As you know, you will not have a chance to deal with it, because when the amendments are submitted next Monday, even though we finish Friday afternoon, there will be no time for anybody to respond to them. Once they're in, there are no amendments to any amendments. We don't know, the opposition doesn't know, the presenters don't know, none of the workers know and none of the organizations will know what is going on.
The other point you made which I thought was good -- by the way, I'd like to refer back to that case Mr Maves referred to today. If I'm not mistaken, I think in response to a question it was said that it took 11 years to resolve an issue because the employer was not prepared to submit the case to the OLRB. If that's the only case we can identify, you're right: Where is this massive example of abuse in restructuring that has taken place, and what's the fear based on, that they have to be so heavy-handed as to bring about legislation like this? I agree with you that the premise is erroneous if you look at the evidence. It just doesn't stand up.
Let me ask you this. I have mentioned a few times already that my reading of what was going to happen is that the minister was essentially going to take the functions, responsibilities, authorities and the same criteria from the transition commission and just pass that over to the OLRB. We don't know what shape that's going to take. She did say "with new resources." I don't know if there will be a new structure. I don't know if there will be a special unit. We don't know any of these things. I think that's why we don't have the amendments before us, because when we see it we may find that the OLRB is just a guise for what the commission was going to do. It's now just going to be in name only under the OLRB. Is that your worry as well?
Mr Parkin: That's what I am led to believe, in fact; it's not just a worry.
Mr Patten: So your feeling is that there's no justification for the bill and it should be withdrawn. I have recommended the same thing. I don't think the government is going to buy our advice. You had the same briefing we had yesterday, I guess, the technical briefing from the ministry. Have you had a chance to read the minister's comments that she made yesterday?
Mr Parkin: No, I haven't.
Mr Patten: On the pay equity issue, she's saying that's a stay-of-execution situation. She hasn't declared herself, as far as I know. We haven't seen anything on that. On the wage protection issue, I agree with you that that isn't fair, and as you obliquely recommended, I will speak to my federal cousins on that.
Mr Parkin: I know this was before your time as an MPP, but I do recall your party fighting against the wage protection program pretty fiercely and asking for all kinds of exemptions at the time it was introduced. I think we have to just bear in mind that not all of us were there at that time.
Second, I'd like to remind you that you supported a Conservative motion to the House some years ago that asked for fettered arbitration. I think it was March 5, 1993. I looked it up. You said that in cases of arbitration in the broader public sector and the public sector, arbitrators should be fettered. We wonder sometimes when members of your caucus, as I recently met with, say to me that we should be a little concerned about attacking these guys too hard and not being friendly enough with you. It's because we're sometimes not too sure that you're all that different.
Mr Patten: Times change, as you know, and different parties at different times respond to new realities. We don't agree with the heavy-handedness of all this, and we have supported continually the independent selection of arbitrators, especially for the essential workers. That's our position.
Mr Christopherson: I want to ask you if there was any discussion with you before Bill 136 was put together, before it was dropped in the Legislature, given that the government says it's making its moves now because it's so generously listening to everyone.
Mr Parkin: No. Also, I think we have to recall that the legislation was introduced on June 3, which was the day after a federal election. No, we never met with anybody, nor were we told anything about this.
Mr Christopherson: If the government follows through on its commitments -- we don't know yet that it's going to because we haven't seen the actual wording. But if they do, and that lowers the temperature and resolves most of the outstanding issues, is it fair to say that an awful lot of worry and concern and political public positioning could have been avoided if they'd had those discussions ahead of time and listened to you the suggestions you made following the special convention in July?
Mr Parkin: If in fact the government's intention was to try and facilitate restructuring in the municipal, school board and hospital system, it would have probably talked to us, but the fact is that that was not what this was about. In my estimation, this was about making the members of our union pay for your download and your tax cut, and we can't negotiate that.
Mr Christopherson: The government is having great fun with this 11 years that it's taken to resolve a particular issue. Every time they do that, I intend to come back with the fact that they leave the impression that because it took 11 years, it's automatically the union's fault, it's automatically the workers' fault.
Mr Christopherson: You leave that impression when you ask union representatives about this 11 years and use that as an example of why you needed to do what you were doing in the original Bill 136. I've said to you repeatedly, and I ask Tom if it applies to his union, that the labour movement will never disagree with expediting matters under the Ontario Labour Relations Act or any other piece of legislation. What they ask for is fairness. That was the problem with 136. Yes, it expedited things, but it removed all the fairness that existed in the legislation. I would ask Tom whether his union would support the concept of providing expedited processes within the labour legislation of this province, as long as it was fair and balanced.
Mr Parkin: Absolutely. We were involved in the discussions that led to the development of our alternative, which proposed exactly that. We stand by that. I thought it was a not bad proposition to the government; the government chose not to accept that. I think that's unfortunate. If we can cut the amount of money that our members, through their dues, pay on proceedings with lawyers and stuff like that, that's great; I'd love to do it.
Mr Christopherson: The parliamentary assistant was trying to suggest that it was the OFL's recommendation that the DRC be eliminated and just transfer everything into the OLRA. If I heard you correctly, you were suggesting that the changes they made under Bill 136 were not necessary, and that if there were to be any expedited processes, you can do it in the OLRA; but that all the unfairness and meanness and stacking against unions that was in the DRC cannot be applied, or they have not met the criteria you were asking for.
Mr Parkin: That's right. They're still applying biased criteria upon arbitrators for those who, I gather, will still be in an arbitration regime, and that's clearly not fair. The latest indication was not only that some of the directive criteria were still there, but that the purpose clause would remain, which is a biased purpose clause for the entire structure. That's not right; that's not fair. The purpose clause should state something along the lines of, "The purposes are for fair outcomes," approximating those that would happen in a free collective bargaining system.
Mr Christopherson: It's interesting to remember that in two previous pieces of legislation, one still before the House, Bill 99, and Bill 7, the actual new Mike Harris Labour Relations Act removed the word "fair" that existed in the legislation that was there prior to the Tory hammer coming down.
The Chair: Mr Parkin, on behalf of the members of the committee, we thank you for coming before us this afternoon with your advice; it's appreciated.
ONTARIO ENGLISH CATHOLIC TEACHERS' ASSOCIATION
The Chair: I now call upon representatives from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. Good afternoon. Welcome.
Mr Marshall Jarvis: I'd like to begin by thanking you for giving us the opportunity, on behalf of the 35,000 Catholic teachers in the province, to make this presentation to you.
I'm Marshall Jarvis. I'm president of the association. Claire Ross is our general secretary, and Ray Fredette is our executive assistant.
I'd like to begin by saying the following: I believe the committee hearing process is essential to the passage of any legislation for the common good in a parliamentary democracy. I must say, however, that I'm a little puzzled by the way in which the current provincial government is developing legislation aimed at the working people in this province.
We are here today to discuss Bill 136, which includes not only workers in hospitals, schools and municipalities; it also includes occasional teachers who are members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. Yet only yesterday the labour minister stated to this committee that she intends to proceed with significant changes to Bill 136. It certainly is a commitment that we hope she carries through on in a much more credible fashion than the minister did on the right to strike with the teachers.
Although we have yet to see any of these changes in writing, we are committed to endorsing a number of those changes. We are here today discussing a bill, however, which is incomplete and which, in the minister's mind, has been dramatically altered, yet we don't have the final version in front of us on which to comment, so we and perhaps some of you may feel at a slight disadvantage.
Regardless, section 1.03 of our brief states there is no evidence that union-employee relations require Bill 136. The unions are not resisting Bill 104, the Fewer School Boards Act, nor are they sabotaging amalgamation. In fact, we firmly believe that Bill 136 will undermine the smooth transition to amalgamated school boards.
Section 1.04 states that, left alone, occasional teachers could resolve all bargaining unit representation rights and collective bargaining issues under the OLRB, which is the law which currently governs our labour relations.
The government introduced the Dispute Resolution Commission and the LRTC on a hunch that there would be chaos in the collective bargaining regime in the province of Ontario. There is no empirical proof of the need for these acts or the commissions involved. The arbitration process under the Ontario Labour Relations Act has worked for our occasional teachers in Ontario without jeopardizing the public interest. The government has not presented any evidence to show that the process under the Ontario Labour Relations Act will not measure up to the needs of employers and employees in the newly amalgamated boards.
OECTA's analysis proves that 100% of our amalgamated units could resolve any differences of opinion under the current rules, without Bill 136. Our sister unions have told us that the overwhelming majority of disputes which concern their members could also be resolved without the passage of Bill 136.
I'd like to draw your attention at this time to page 14. Table 1A shows very clearly that 70% of the members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association who fall under the OLRA are employed in boards which are not amalgamating. In excess of 70% of our membership in that area, therefore, don't need any help from Bill 136. Those same percentages also correspond to our teachers in amalgamating boards. So not only those under the OLRA but also under our current Bill 100 do not require any type of legislation, because they're not amalgamating. These figures show that all labour issues facing our occasional teachers could be resolved under current procedures of the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
I turn your attention at this time to page 17, on which certain recommendations are outlined.
This association believes, first of all, that Bill 136 should be withdrawn. Second, in the event that Bill 136 is not withdrawn, it should be limited to only those school boards which were actually amalgamating and that in those boards the right to strike remain. Finally, in the event that Bill 136 is not withdrawn, it should not apply to occasional teachers.
We have a very serious concern on our hands with regard to the scope. We certainly have commitments from the government about change, but I'd like to bring out another side of the issue here. It's worth noting that occasional teachers are expected to have their representation rights transferred to their five teacher affiliates of the Ontario Teachers' Federation under Bill 160, the Education Quality Improvement Act, which was introduced this week. Today, our occasional teachers enjoy a full scope of bargaining rights under the Ontario Labour Relations Act. That will continue under Bill 136, which we are discussing today. What doesn't make any sense to this association or to our occasional members is the fact that they will lose all those rights when they move under Bill 160 in two years' time.
If occasional teachers deserve full bargaining rights now, why won't they deserve them in two years' time? If occasional teachers deserve full bargaining rights now, why is it that the classroom teachers of the province of Ontario don't deserve those same rights? If you're going to amend Bill 136 to restore the rights of workers across this province, why are you going to destroy those similar rights under Bill 160 for the teachers?
I'd be happy to answer any questions at this time.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have -- a little bit of quick math -- about nine minutes for each caucus. We'll begin with the official opposition.
Mr Patten: Good to see you again. It's always under adverse circumstances, though.
Mr Jarvis: Unfortunately, in these days it is troubling times.
Mr Patten: I think your point's an important one. It's the first time I've heard that specific issue, that is, the incompatibility of the two bills as proposed. I suppose in the hearings, if there are any, for Bill 160, that will come up as well. Obviously, those should be made compatible. I think that's one of the functions of legislative counsel, or at least the lawyers in ministries. Somebody's got a function to look at the compatibility and how it impacts on other bills.
Given that we don't have the actual amendments, though -- it's another point that reinforces why amendments are so important. While it's true that amendments are not typically presented before hearings, in this instance the proposed amendments are so substantial that they change the fundamental function of the act.
It may be attempting to address the same purposes, as the minister would say, but we suggest that because it so fundamentally -- if you took out from the act what the minister has addressed, you would have wage protection and the pay equity issue. Even the pay equity issue is now on the back burner, or they were not prepared to comment at this time, because they are seeking legal advice vis-à-vis the court ruling.
Your recommendation is that this be withdrawn, and in the event that it isn't withdrawn, that it be limited only to those school boards which are actually amalgamated, and in those schools boards that the right to strike remain. Again, there's some dispute vis-à-vis 160, as to whether that is there or isn't there. We're in quite a quagmire. How do you feel about that? On one hand you're dealing with one piece of legislation that may or may not be granted or re-granted, and in another one we're not sure, but we think it has been taken away. But it's not under Bill 160. How do you feel about dealing with all of these balls in the air when you're trying to help kids learn their studies at school?
Mr Jarvis: Quite clearly, it's very difficult to grab something that isn't there. It's very difficult to comment. As an educator -- and we've all been through an excellent education system which exists in this province and continues to. If you're going to argue an issue, you at least have to put it on the table before the people. What I find now is that we have a government which is on face value asking for people to accept the changes it has announced through the Minister of Labour. We would like to do that. We would like to show trust to the government. But you've pointed out an excellent example of where, on one day, a representative of this government has stood up and said that a certain right had been restored, and when you read the fine print in the legislation, there's an overriding provision.
We have an extensive brief before you on Bill 136, but I really don't know what it is that I'm here to speak to, because the government has taken unto itself an authority to change it without sharing what those changes would be. If there is to be established within the labour community a sense of trust in the government, there should be no reason they could not produce and lay before us the amendments they have stated that they would make.
Mr Patten: You are on the record as saying -- I forget your exact words, but it's: "Look, we're trying to make the best of a situation to amalgamate the schools and the boards that are affected," and you're suggesting that this legislation should be withdrawn, but if it is applied, applied only to those boards in an amalgamated situation. Are there any boards that are not affected at all?
Mr Jarvis: A significant portion of the separate school boards of the province are not affected. Our current estimation, which is within our brief, indicates that we have 34 boards after the implementation of Bill 104. Boards unaffected by that bill are 21.
Mr Patten: So it's two thirds.
Mr Jarvis: And it's a substantive number. If the bill is aimed at a smooth transition to facilitate the amalgamation of school boards, where is the applicability? Unless, of course, you want to open up collective agreements for a stated purpose, and in discussions we've had recently with the government, the purpose is very clear: It's a fiscal agenda. If that's the case, the government should step forward and put to the people of Ontario what their agenda is.
Mr Patten: I see your point. It's a good one: Two thirds of your boards are not affected by this legislation, yet it applies to everybody.
It seems to me that you've offered a clear position of saying that you're prepared to work with the government on this under reasonable conditions. I suppose that was the rationale for suggesting that the bill is not necessary and it should be withdrawn. Others feel it's an impingement, and some have declared this to be an insult to the integrity of people who are not looking for a fight, who are not looking for ways to muck up the system, who are not looking for ways to get back at the government or anything of that nature. I think the government should listen carefully to that, but I don't think they will. In the absence of that, I think your recommendation on it being applicable only to those boards that are affected by amalgamation should apply. Thank you very much for coming today.
The Chair: To the NDP for questioning, but first, I was in error. I apologize. In front of teachers, my math was incorrect. I have checked; it was seven minutes.
Mr Jarvis: I was going to say, nine minutes was a long time, with three parties.
The Chair: I'm thoroughly embarrassed. I do apologize.
Mr Jarvis: I'm a math-science person, and that wasn't working out for me either, but I was giving you the opportunity.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. You state on page 1 -- we've touched on this in previous discussions but I want to expand on it a bit. You state in 1.04:
"Without the interference of Bill 136, the parties would have peacefully and expeditiously settled the overwhelming majority of representational and collective bargaining issues, and would have distilled the outstanding issues to a small minority. Under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, these could have been submitted to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for assistance and resolution."
That being the case, would you state again why you think 136 was brought in? If clearly in your opinion and in your experience it was not to achieve the agenda that the government publicly stated, what was the purpose of 136?
Mr Jarvis: If you're asking me for my personal opinion and not the statement or the position of the government, in essence -- and I'd like to begin by saying that I think the success of the Ontario Labour Relations Act is exhibited by its resiliency over the years and its ability to avoid conflict. That's a proven fact.
Clearly, from the teachers' perspective, the opening up of collective agreements -- and in particular the evidence being in the non-amalgamated school boards -- is for only one purpose, and that's to allow access to the contents of those collective agreements. If your clear objective is a fiscal one -- and that has been stated on numerous occasions -- you must access the collective agreements of the province of Ontario, and therefore every last one of them must be opened up. That is our supposition on this position. However, I would be happy, in a few minutes, to hear from the party in power about how wrong I am.
Mr Christopherson: You won't get that argument from us. That's what we've seen as the agenda from the outset. The government has got certain fiscal goals they have to reach, such as the $5 billion to pay for the tax cut that most working people are not benefiting much from -- a couple of cups of coffee a month -- without risking any kind of increase in property tax, education tax. What they've decided to do with 136 was provide a field day for people to go in -- who really have no other alternative. Whether they wanted to or not, they're being forced into going in there and stripping collective agreements. I hope the parliamentary assistant is prepared to engage you in that discussion, because I think it would be quite interesting.
Everyone else who has come in and raised the issue of what could or could not be done under the existing Labour Relations Act talked about expediting the process. I explored that a little with Mr Parkin before you, and I'd like to in your case.
Do the teachers want to avoid speeding up processes, for some reason, in front of the Ontario Labour Relation Board? Is there some hidden agenda you have that benefits you and your members to slow everything down? Or are you like every other public sector entity that's been in here, who say, "No, we want the process to work as quick as possible, and if any government is prepared to do that, we'll support it, as long as you maintain the fairness and the neutrality that exists now."
Mr Jarvis: I think there are two components to your question. First, let me deal with fairness and neutrality. That has to be a fundamental principle of any legislation. In terms of the expeditious nature of resolving issues, we're committed to that. As a matter of fact, we have under Bill 100, within the teacher component, also promoted that same concept. There is no benefit to any party to delay the resolution of issues. Certainly it is not the position of this group of professional employees to ever hinder that process.
Mr Christopherson: I suspect that every group that comes forward's going to say the same thing. It makes common sense, quite frankly, because in most cases -- not all, but in most cases -- the Labour Relations Act is there to help workers and their representatives uphold their rights in the collective agreement. I would think that most of the cases brought forward are generated by the labour movement and they want them resolved as quick as possible. I haven't heard anybody come forward and say, "We want special treatment, we want special favours, we want you to load up the process in our favour." No, it's, "What we want you to do is make sure our rights are protected through fairness and neutrality, and the quicker you can make it, the better."
It's important that we dispel as much as we can in the short time the government's offered, to knock away the arguments they've given for bringing in Bill 136. They still have to live with the fact that they were prepared to ram Bill 136 through the way it was. They had thought through the principles. They knew the rights they were taking away. They had passed that through their cabinet. I don't know whether they passed it through caucus, but I'm sure they were at least briefed. They were prepared to do that. It's only because of the politics of the situation, the public outcry -- AMO went offside; they had a major problem with police and firefighters -- that they had no other alternative, when they added it all up, except to back down.
This business of listening: I want to put the same question to you as I have to others. If the government is sincere about saying that the reason they're stepping down is that they're listening and they want to avoid chaos and trouble, could they not have avoided all this trouble if they are willing to accept the alternative approach offered by the OFL and by your organization, if they'd sat down with you before they dropped Bill 136 on the floor of the Legislature? Would that not have saved everybody an awful lot of grief?
Mr Jarvis: The aspect of communication, of reaching compromise, of finding the solutions that will appeal to everyone within a community is a hallmark of any successful government. Obviously, the critical component of that is to do that prior to the introduction of any legislation. The failure of doing that results in a situation where parties are put in difficult scenarios of no one's wish or no one's making. Certainly a great deal of unrest and discomfort across this province could have been avoided had serious contemplation been given to the actual outcomes of Bill 136 in its perhaps former -- maybe not; we're not sure -- state. I agree wholeheartedly with the fact that we have to discuss before something hits the legislative table.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much for your presentation. With occasional teachers who aren't covered under Bill 100, they're going to be covered by Bill 160. You're saying you don't think they should be moved over to be covered by the same legislation as other teachers, or that the other teachers should have the same right to strike unfettered by the jeopardy provisions of Bill 100? I want to get clear on that.
Mr Jarvis: Let's just deal with a few issues, because you've certainly laid a number of them upon the table. Let's begin by saying that --
Mr Maves: I thought I laid one on, but go ahead.
Mr Jarvis: Actually, you touched on a few, and being a teacher, we'd mark every one.
The issue before us is an interesting one, because what we're saying is this. You can read our previous briefs -- I urge you to -- on Bill 100. We have always stated that we believe our occasional teacher members should be part of the school board-teacher collective negotiations act, Bill 100. Bill 100 will apparently cease to exist shortly. That being the case, we are now going to take a group of people who have -- I'm going to move off the right-to-strike thing for a minute -- a full scope of bargaining which is not subject to regulatory authority by the minister or cabinet. Now all of a sudden we're going to take those people and drop them into a milieu, and a rather messy one at that, under Bill 160 and say: "You used to have unfettered rights to bargain. You used to have unfettered rights to enter into the normal processes in bargaining, which include the right to strike. Now suddenly, two years down the road, we're going to put you in a milieu where your rights are going to be constrained."
All we're saying is, we want them, but we want the same rights as everybody else has in the province. For a government which espouses the fact that they want to stay out of that, that normal labour practices should exist -- less government, less intrusion -- why are we going through this exercise under Bill 160?
Mr Maves: So you're opposed to the jeopardy provisions that have been under Bill 100? That's what fetters the right to strike that the occasional teachers would have been dropped into. You said you were in favour of that in the past. If they had been dropped into that milieu, then they would have the same fettered right to strike that other teachers have.
Mr Jarvis: Within the context of Bill 100, when the teachers of the province of Ontario and the government of the province of Ontario at that time dealt with the issue of the right to strike for teachers, when it was introduced, there were compromises that were reached. We have lived successfully under those compromises. We were willing to work within the context of that because overall it was a good situation and teachers should have all been under the same bill. The issue you're zeroing in on is one component. Let's talk about the regulations that are under Bill 160 that those people will be fettered by now. I think that's a much more relevant argument, and much, much broader in context and scope than the one you wish to isolate in terms of minutiae. But let's continue the dialogue.
Mr Maves: I didn't mean to do that. I thought that was something to isolate and I was just trying to understand that.
I want to get to another issue before my time is exhausted. You have said that this is going to apply to boards that are not part of amalgamation. I contend that it's not. The section that affects the school sector, if I can read it to you -- maybe this needs clarification; I don't know -- says, "This act applies upon the assumption by a district school board of the jurisdiction of one or more existing school boards." To me that's a merger and amalgamation. To you that's unclear, I take it. The gentleman beside you is nodding his head.
Mr Claire Ross: I think the point you're trying to get at is the fact that on January 1, 1998, every board in the province, which will now be a district school board, will be a new school board. As such, the requirement exists that the collective agreements be opened and that all parties enter into bargaining. The point we've been trying to make is that doesn't seem to make much sense. If you're trying to facilitate amalgamation, why would you then apply the legislation of Bill 136 to all boards and require that all collective agreements in this province be opened? Unless, of course, there's something other than the facilitation of the process of amalgamation.
Mr Maves: So you think because they're using the term "district school board" and all school boards now are going to called district school boards despite whether they've had an amalgamation or not, that means they're covered by the act?
Mr Jarvis: Could you read the preamble just before: Does it say "one or more"?
Mr Maves: That's right: "upon the assumption of a district school board of one or more," so it would have to be one taking over another.
Mr Jarvis: It's the "one or more." Our legal counsel has clearly delineated to us -- and if we're wrong, please clarify it for all of us. We have a position from our legal counsel that it will be applicable to every school board. If that's wrong, please, right now, clarify that for me. You are saying, on behalf of your government, that this bill does not apply to a school board which is not in an amalgamation situation.
Mr Maves: That is my understanding, yes.
Mr Jarvis: That is the understanding of you or your government?
Mr Maves: Of myself.
Mr Jarvis: Of you personally.
Mr Maves: If I'm wrong and my lawyers want to tell me I'm wrong -- but that's my understanding. Just by virtue of a having a new name, "district school board," that does not apply. It's upon amalgamation of one or more boards. We can get that clarified. That is my understanding of the intent of the application section as it applies to schools.
Mr Jarvis: I'd like to continue this, if I may, for a moment.
The Chair: Very briefly. We'd like to end on a happy note. That would be great.
Mr Jarvis: I'm smiling. I would like to see and read in Hansard where the minister will stand up in the House tomorrow and give that explanation. Then I want it applicable to Bill 160, because that takes out two thirds of our boards as well. And I am smiling.
The Chair: I'm sure someone will be working on clarification of that point. Gentlemen, on behalf of all the members of the committee, we thank you for coming before us this afternoon. Your advice is appreciated.
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION
The Chair: I now call on the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation. Good afternoon, and welcome.
Mr Earl Manners: My name is Earl Manners, and I'm president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation. Jim McQueen is vice-president of protective services. Bev Wilson is an executive assistant, or staff member, with OSSTF, who is a former office, clerical and technical employee with the Hamilton Board of Education and a member of OSSTF and quite familiar with the Labour Relations Act and its operations and the whole issue of amalgamation.
Let me also say that we appreciate the opportunity, as limited as it is, to be here to talk with you about this piece of legislation.
We represent 50,000 members, 34,000 of whom are teachers. The other 15,000 to 16,000 are educational workers who provide indispensable services to school boards who range from office, clerical and technical employees to custodial maintenance services to education assistants, social workers, psychologists and occasional teachers. All those people are covered under the Labour Relations Act and are affected by Bill 136. They are concerned, justifiably, about the impact that amalgamation and this legislation will have on them, on their basic rights and on their jobs.
Let me also say at the beginning that OSSTF has never been opposed to the amalgamation of school boards, although we would question some of the boundaries that have been created across this province for the public school system. We would also question the fact that the public school system, which represents over 75% of the students in this province, has fewer school boards than the separate and French-language systems, which represent about 25% of the students in this province. We're not saying that to be divisive; we're saying that because it raises a very fundamental question about the commitment of this government to the public education system that it would remove drastically local government from this area of education and less so in other jurisdictions.
Let me also say that while we're not opposed to amalgamation, we and our members expected that the fundamental democratic rights of unionized employees in these school boards would be respected by this government in any transition process and in any applicable legislation. That this has not been the case raises a number of questions both in the minds of this organization and among our members about what the true intentions were of this government with this legislation and with amalgamations and mergers of public service institutions.
We fundamentally believe that amalgamation, new funding models and other pieces of legislation that have been introduced are all designed to move to the privatization of as many public services as possible, and that would also apply to the education system; and to make further cuts to the tune of $1 billion in addition to the $800 million that has already been cut.
Those fears are not just idle. We read recently in the Canadian Jewish News that the assistant to the minister, John Weir, and his parliamentary assistant, Bruce Smith, met with the group that was advocating for public funding of private religious schools and indicated that they had accepted in principle the concept of public funding of other private religious schools and outlined criteria which sounded very much like charter schools and a voucher model of education funding that would apply in that situation. We can supply this hearing with that information if you would like.
Let me go on by saying that we are very concerned that this government has put this entire province -- our members, students, parents and the general public -- through a very gut-wrenching process that smacks of anti-unionism and created confrontation in our communities that was totally unnecessary.
We hope the announcements by the Minister of Labour just recently will go a long way to reducing that tension, but we do need to see the amendments in writing, and the sooner they are provided, not only to us and the opposition parties but to the general public, the better. Let me say that we welcome in principle the intent of those proposals and amendments in this bill, but we hope our cynicism will not be renewed when we actually see the fine print.
Let me say too, as an opener, that our cynicism can be reduced if you do two things right away: that you restore and make a commitment to restore impartiality at the Labour Relations Board, and you can do that by saying that you will not interfere in labour jurisprudence, just as you could not interfere in criminal or civil law; that you remove criteria that would restrict the independence of arbitrators in the decision-making process; and that when it comes to appointments to the Labour Relations Board, you go back to the practice of previous governments, including Tory governments, that they be based on consensus and that you cease and desist the purging of employees of the Labour Relations Board which took place just a couple of weeks ago.
I would ask you to turn your attention to our brief, beginning on page 3. I'm not going to read it all. I just want to highlight a few pieces.
We indicate on page 2 the statements made by the Minister of Labour and that we welcome them, but we want to ensure that the right to strike is in place and that these rights remain part of the educational sector, as they have been for decades. They have not been abused. I want to say here that it is our intent, as it always has been, to bargain in good faith, even throughout the transition period, towards a fair collective agreement that respects our employees and the services they provide to young people, and we hope the employers would do the same thing. In that kind of framework, we believe there is absolutely no need whatsoever for strikes or lockouts to occur.
The Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act: There is no justification for removing the right to strike or lockout and referring these disputes to a new government-appointed commission. It would be inexperienced, it would be employer-biased and it would only duplicate processes already found in the Labour Relations Act. For a government that's as concerned as they say about bureaucracy, they do not seem to be following their own practice. The Labour Relations Board is the quasi-judicial body that is most suitable to deal with these matters during this restructuring process.
If you turn to page 4, I want to emphasize that while we have supported the minister's comments, her reference to a temporary public interest test we would not support. We do not believe it is necessary and it would just be a further intrusion on free collective bargaining. We urge you to leave the process alone, unimpeded by external constraints, and let the parties come to their own resolution.
As I think I have mentioned, we believe the creation of the Dispute Resolution Commission is totally unnecessary, that the Labour Relations Board can handle most of these matters. This commission, if it does go forward, even though the minister says it's going to be eliminated, would go forward without regard for even minimal standards of natural justice and due process. Even opportunities to make presentations like the one to this hearing and to this committee would be denied under the current legislation. The whole concept of impartiality and neutrality is central to dispute resolution, and that's been thrown out the window with this bill. I want to emphasize again that we remain opposed to any fettering of the arbitrator's ability to make decisions in the best interests of the parties and the public.
The Labour Relations Transition Commission and the Labour Relations Board: We cannot understand why there should be a need to create this commission. It's a parallel body to the Labour Relations Board. As I said earlier, please say now that you have confidence in the Labour Relations Board and that you will respect its impartiality, and that will go a long way to reducing some of our cynicism.
On pages 6 and 7: OSSTF is in support of the proposals put forward in the OFL brief that has been presented to the Premier and to the Minister of Labour. We have listed again for your information many of the items and alternatives that were proposed in that. I want to let you and everyone in this room know that we support those positions as outlined in that brief. I will not go through them again at this time.
I would like, however, to turn my attention to the issue of pay equity, an aspect of the bill that does not seem to be related whatsoever to the issue of amalgamation or mergers. You will find some of our positions on pages 8 and 9 and some proposals we have.
We believe the amendments or the changes to the Pay Equity Act which form part of Bill 136 should be scrapped. It's patently discriminatory that all other employment obligations by predecessor employers should be passed to successor employers under this legislation, with the exception of certain pay equity obligations. Proposed limitations on retroactivity reward employers who have been in non-compliance with the Pay Equity Act and must be removed. Once again it seems this government's concern is only one of cost and not of fairness to employees.
OSSTF would urge the government to drop these proposals, which I believe violate the spirit of the current Pay Equity Act and, if a recent judgement by the courts is any indication, may indeed violate human rights provisions of this province.
In conclusion, OSSTF, like other public sector unions, understands and appreciates the government's concern that the restructuring and amalgamation of school boards that lies ahead proceed as smoothly as possible. That is our intent as well. This legislation, though, is hardly the way to go. We believe that the proposals of the Ontario Federation of Labour herein referenced provide reasonable alternatives to the unnecessary, and I would say repugnant, processes outlined in Bill 136. We would urge you and the committee to support the minister's proposed amendments to Bill 136 and give consideration to the various concerns and suggestions raised in this submission as well.
I hope there's time for questions.
The Chair: There is. Thank you very much. we have about five minutes remaining for each caucus. We'll begin with the NDP caucus.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. I appreciate your coming in on extremely short notice, especially when you're asked to comment on something you haven't yet actually seen, other than just a few words here and there.
Mr Manners: It was difficult.
Mr Christopherson: I was interested in your opening comments. I'm sure you'll note that Mr Smith is here with us today, and I'm sure he'd be eager to respond to your concerns around the public funding of private schools, the privatization of our public system, whichever way you want to put it, and the possibility of moving to a voucher system. I'm sure he'll be prepared to clarify that for you, because he's next.
I've heard the government members, when questions have been asked in the House, deny, through heckling and comments, that they have any intention at all of taking $1 billion out of the system. We, of course, like you, contend that is the case. Can you give us your reasons why you believe that the government's agenda is to extract another $1 billion out of the education system of this province?
Mr Manners: Through Bill 136 we believe they are paving the way, through the funding model, to lowering standards and costs for basic support services for education. Bill 136 would then force employers -- school boards -- to contract out services like custodial maintenance and office and clerical services, because the government will set minimum standards, and by using these new commissions and these new unilateral powers it would make it much easier to do so and therefore, by reducing the wages of some of the lowest-paid workers in our education system, save the government money in terms of transfers and grants to those school boards.
In addition, if you look at the parallel legislation that's been introduced governing teachers, you can see that the toolkit that the minister had to withdraw just over a year ago is alive and well, but just under different legislation and someone else now is responsible for the tools: That is the Minister of Education. It was clearly stated then that it was designed to reduce costs, and I think the same would apply. When we were briefed by the minister's officials a few weeks ago, they said they were looking for $1 billion and that they had to balance their budget before they went back to the polls. This was crass politics they were engaging in.
Mr Christopherson: That's pretty clear. I'll be interested to see if anybody wants to take up the challenge that that indeed is not the case, in terms of the government's response next.
I don't know if you were here for the discussion with Mr Parkin of the Amalgamated Transit Union. I want to bring to your attention that on page 2, where you mention that the functions and responsibilities of the proposed LRTC be moved over to the OLRB, Mr Maves commented at the time that the OFL, on behalf of all public sector unions, requested that all that was supposed to go into the commissions would now go into the OLRA and the board would be the one to decide. You might want to be very cautious and very clear, when you mention on the top of page 5 about the independent and impartial interest arbitration, and on the previous page the whole concept of impartiality and neutrality, that just shifting the powers that were going to be vested in the commissions into the Ontario Labour Relations Act holus-bolus in no way satisfies or meets the criteria that the OFL put before the government in terms of alternatives. I'm a little concerned that it looked as if he was attempting to play word games. I'm a little concerned now, until I hear it totally dispelled, that that's exactly what they're going to do and they're going to say, "That's what the OFL asked us to do."
It's my understanding from ATU, and I'd like to hear from you, that yes, you were seeking for the expeditious nature of what they were trying to achieve to be done through the OLRA and the board decisions, but it was the impartiality and neutrality and fairness of the board and the act that you wanted to preserve. That stuff has to be jettisoned. If it's carried over, the government has not met its publicly stated purpose, which is to back away from these horrible taking away of rights. Your thoughts on that.
Mr Manners: I would agree with your statement. That's why I opened my comments by saying that while we appreciate the amendments and statements made by the Minister of Labour in the House last week, they don't go far enough. There needs to be a statement by this government and by the Minister of Labour unequivocally that they will respect the Labour Relations Board, its neutrality, its impartiality and its independence; that they will cease and desist from hiring and firing procedures that are not based on a consensual model; and that they will remove the criteria and powers that were given to these commissions that are arbitrary and above the law and force arbitrators to act in a way that is not neutral or independent or in the best interests of the parties. They had to go. You can't just hand things back over to the Labour Relations Board and then create it in the image of something that was repugnant in the first place.
Mr Christopherson: I hope we get that clarified during the Tories' turn, which is up now.
Mr Hardeman: Thank you, Mr Manners, for your presentation. I appreciate the conclusion of your presentation. We recognize the difficulties that exist. Your commitment is that the proposal put forward by the federation and the amendments the minister proposed to accommodate that are a step in the right direction, and that you're looking forward to working with the minister to implement that.
I've got a couple of questions. Part of it is from a previous presentation from the Catholic teachers, as it related to the occasional teachers and their inclusion in Bill 136 and then the transfer to Bill 160. I want to make it clear that I'm not here to discuss Bill 160, but their concern was that that shouldn't be done, yet I didn't get any clarification as to what should be done in that case. Should the occasional teachers be removed from here and put into the other legislation immediately, or should they stay separate? Have you got a position on that that you could help me out with?
Mr Manners: Yes, we do. The history of this is that we won an arbitration award many years ago, under a former Conservative government, that said occasional teachers were teachers. While the former government recognized that, they separated them under legislation and put them under the Labour Relations Act and forced us to go about organizing them under that act and representing them through a different collective bargaining process. We've always felt that occasional teachers are teachers as defined under the Education Act and that the merger of that bargaining unit with the teachers' bargaining unit was in the best interests of education. What legislation they are under is immaterial. We believe they have a common interest.
Mr Hardeman: The other issue was the issue of the right to work stoppage. In Bill 100 now, if the students' year is in jeopardy, the minister can, through the Legislature, order teachers back to work, and that reappears in the one area but not in Bill 136. For my purpose, to understand it, is that something new? First, your comment that the right to strike is there and then it's not: Was it your position that should also be removed?
Mr Manners: If you're saying does jeopardy apply to occasional teachers, I don't think it applies, because you're dealing with a small number of people in a school in any particular situation. Whether there are two separate bargaining units or one bargaining unit, jeopardy is not an issue with respect to occasional teachers. Are you asking as well about the future of jeopardy and the ability to make that decision?
Mr Hardeman: Yes. Your suggestion is that that should disappear. Or do you think that's a worthwhile safeguard to --
Mr Manners: The Education Relations Commission is another quasi-judicial body, like the Labour Relations Board, that you're eliminating. If it were independent and unfettered and impartial and neutral, like it has been in the past, we could respect the decisions of such a commission, because they would be based on the best evidence in front of them. We have not had problems in the past. It has only been when government has interfered with the proceedings of this quasi-judicial body, like we found last year with the Minister of Education and the Lennox and Addington dispute, that problems arose.
Governments have always had the right to legislate groups back to work. Whether they use it or not is a decision that is made by them at the time; sometimes it's politically motivated and sometimes it perhaps has not been. But the process we've used in teacher bargaining so far has tried to remove politics from those kinds of decisions.
Mr Hardeman: One further question. You made the comment that an arbitration process should be in the best interests of the parties and the public. Do you not see some types of criteria for arbitrators in terms of how you define the interest of the public as a helpful tool for arbitrators as opposed to an arbitrary tool?
Mr Manners: We're dealing with the public sector here and we're dealing with freely elected governments, whether they be municipalities or hospital boards or school boards, and they are representing the interests of the public and they are making decisions. To suggest that arbitrators need other criteria to represent the interests of the public I think is suggesting that you have no confidence or faith in local government.
Mr Jim McQueen: The other point is that you can't predefine public interest. Public interest varies from situation to situation. If you attempt to come up with some list of criteria, it's not necessarily going to be applicable to a given situation. The situation has to develop first, and then a determination has to be made in relationship to public interest.
The Chair: Mr Patten, you're next.
Mr Patten: Chair, I wonder if you could alert me when I have a minute left. I would like to give it to Mr Smith to give him a chance to respond to the information that was suggested. I request that you share that information with the committee; then we'll have a chance to look at it.
Mr Smith: I will.
Mr Patten: As I think you're well aware, you're not the only one who feels that there's tremendous sympathy for charter schools and privatization and other sorts of private arrangements in the educational system.
I would like to go back to the Labour Relations Board and what the minister said yesterday. I don't know if you caught her remarks here in her presentation. We believe it's going to be whatever powers and criteria were to be used at the transition commission; that those are shifted over fully. I asked her that question yesterday; I won't get into my question, as it was a little long. I asked, "Is that as the Labour Relations Board is now structured?" She said, "Obviously, the Labour Relations Board will need to be given some additional resources" -- fine -- "and some additional powers." So there will be some slight changes there. I'm not sure how slight.
My colleague Mr Hoy asked later on, because he wanted to try to get to the bottom of it, "What will change if you pass this over to the Labour Relations Board?" The minister said, "The majority of provisions will be transferred to the Ontario Labour Relations Board." Mr Hoy said, "Including the criteria?" The minister said: "Including the criteria. The criteria will be there." Mr Hoy said, "So maybe it's not quite the changes that you proposed a day or so ago." She said: "It's the same. I've always indicated that the provisions of the Labour Relations Transition Commission would be transferred to the Labour Relations Board."
I can share the transcript with you. It seems to me that the only change is in not using one new body but transferring it to the others. I also suspect, frankly, that there will be a new structure with the Labour Relations Board. The characters who are going to run the transition commission are going to be passed over under the guise of the labour board and they will be operating just as they were before. What's your reaction?
Mr Manners: If that's the case, then nothing's changed and the Minister of Labour has deceived the public about what their intentions were. We said we would put our trust in the Labour Relations Board because we felt, based on past practice, that it was neutral and independent and did not have arbitrary powers. People appointed to that board were based on a consensual model of appointment where unions and employers had to have an agreement on who was there, and their powers were unfettered in that they could make independent decisions in the best interests of the parties. It was believed that those decisions would also, in the long run, be in the best interests of the public, because these arbitrators, these judges, were making decisions based on past jurisprudence, past practice and considerations for the future.
If this government is going to interfere in the judicial process, that is as wrong and undemocratic as their trying to interfere in a criminal justice or a civil law case, and they should not do that. If they are going to give powers to the Labour Relations Board that would allow them to interfere that way or for the board to act in an unneutral way, what they will have done is to compromise a long-standing judicial body that has the respect of both labour and management.
Mr Patten: I agree. I believe that's one of the motivations for why the government is not tabling the amendments at this point, so we could see what has been changed in the transition, transferring that power, and the impact it has either on the Labour Relations Act or the particular criteria that the Labour Relations Board will have to live under. There's a big cloud hanging over that. Every group has mentioned that it is not easy to respond until you actually see the amendments, amendments that highly essential and significant to this act.
Mr Manners: We have to see the amendments. My vice-president just sent a note to me saying that the minister, in her press conference, denied there would be any attempt to get things through the back door. If they try to impose the criteria and the powers on the Labour Relations Board, that's both a front-door and a back-door attempt to carry on Bill 136, as it were. That is not our expectation when we say we support in principle the announcement she made the other day.
The Chair: With that, thank you.
Mr Patten: That's it? I was going to offer Mr Smith -- you were going to alert me when I had a minute left.
The Chair: Sorry; I forgot. On behalf of all the members of the committee, thank you for coming forward this afternoon. We do appreciate your advice.
Mr Manners: Who do I send that article to?
The Chair: You can leave it with the clerk and we'll make sure it's copied to all members of the committee.
LABOUR COUNCIL OF METROPOLITAN TORONTO AND YORK REGION
The Chair: I now call representatives from the Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto and York Region. Good afternoon, and welcome.
Ms Linda Torney: My name is Linda Torney. I'm the president of the Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto and York Region. I'm here by myself today because my executive board is meeting tonight and this was the only time slot I could get. I have my vice-president running the meeting until I can get back up there. That leads me to my first comments, and that is the speed with which Bill 136 has been happening.
First of all, I must apologize for the wrong name of the committee on the title page. The reason is that when we heard there was to be a committee, we phoned and asked what committee it was. This is what we were told, and that was really the only word we got until last night, when I received a call that I had two options to be scheduled, both in the middle of my executive board meeting. I apologize for the wrong name, but I hope it won't influence the fact that I would like to make the deputation to this committee, whatever it is truly called.
The Chair: I can assure you we take no offence. We're glad you're here.
Ms Torney: Good. First of all, we are a chartered body of the Canadian Labour Congress. We represent about 180,000 workers from all sectors of the economy in Metro Toronto and York region. Many of our members are directly impacted by Bill 136, but all our council members, regardless of the sector, are unanimous in their demand that this bill be withdrawn.
Please let me first say that I understand -- I have read the minister's statement from last week about 14 times actually, so the situation appears to have changed between when we began this brief and now. I am, however, very unclear as to how it has changed, how much it has changed, whether enough of it has changed. When I came in, I was handed this, which may give me some answers -- I don't know -- but there was hardly time for me to read it between 15 minutes ago and now, so I'm going to continue with my remarks based on our position as it was a week ago -- as far as I know, that is what it still is -- and that is that Bill 136 should be withdrawn.
We took a bit of a different approach to this. I mentioned the incredible haste with which this is being enacted. We're becoming a little used to this, in some ways, with this government, so suspecting that we would not get sufficient hearings on Bill 136, we did something a bit different this time. Our labour council held two days of people's hearings, one in York region and one in Metropolitan Toronto. We invited people who wanted to be recorded in opposition to Bill 136 to come and meet with us and table their briefs, written if possible, but verbal if not, and we would undertake in one way or another to get them to the government. We said we would either do it through standing at this committee, if we achieved standing, or we would do it by asking somebody else who had standing, or if that failed, we would simply bring them down and deliver them; but one way or another, we undertook to get them there.
We have not had a great deal of time and were very limited in staff to put this together. I would have liked to have been able to give you an index of presenters; I was unable to do that. The best we were able to do was photocopy the written briefs that were presented to us, to do the best we could to transcribe the verbal presentations from a tape recorder -- not verbatim by any means, but I can assure you that we did capture the intent and the meaning of what people said -- and to pull out a few quotes.
We have prepared packages of the briefs that were submitted to us in writing, including summaries of verbal comments that were made. There is a package for the Chair and for each of the caucuses, and that was the best we were able to do. I certainly hope people will take the time to read them, since the people took the time to present them to us and we took the time to pull them together and bring them down to you.
I will begin by summarizing some of the content of the presentations. I hope you will take the time to read them. There were some common themes which certainly emerged. First of all, there were issues of democracy. I would say the majority of deputants made some reference to this, both in the content and in the process, the process being the speed, the process being the lack of time to really absorb anything or see anything, and the speed with which it was going through.
Both union and non-union presentations alike remarked on the total control by the government over the mechanisms in Bill 136 as we knew it, the lack of any union representation or consultation, or in fact rights, that seemed to be in the 136 they saw. In general, they saw this legislation as totally lacking in any fairness towards unions or union members and spoke of it as a violation, not only of past precedent in labour relations matters, but a violation of principles of natural justice.
Some made specific references to the inability of unions to have a say over the appointment of arbitrators or various other parts of it, and many made references to anti-democratic practices of the government in the past. In fact, a lot of people compared this legislation with other pieces of legislation that have already been enacted. Most, of course, linked it with what we then didn't know the content of, the impending teachers' legislation, and what we then did not have a number for. It was linked to Bill 26, which some people pointed out set the framework for some of the stuff they saw going on now, and it was linked to Bill 142. I will spend a little more time on that, because I think that's important.
Clearly, people did not see this as a standalone piece of legislation but saw it as a mechanism for accomplishing a larger agenda. People link Bill 26 and the megacity. Of course that's an obvious comparison, because you have Bill 136, which is doing something to workers' rights, and you have the megacity, which is enforced legislation to merge the cities in Metropolitan Toronto. Both union and non-union presenters believed this legislation was intended to remove worker protection in the interests of creating a low-wage labour pool through the gutting of collective agreements. Non-union deputants in particular felt this legislation was intended to weaken unions so they would be unable to fight for social justice issues. I thought that was a very important comment that some non-union deputants made to us.
Particular reference needs to be made to Bill 142. One deputant referred to Bills 142 and 136 as the "evil twins," one half of which was to create low-wage job ghettos in the public service and the other half of which was to slash welfare benefits and force recipients into cheap-labour workfare arrangements in jobs previously held by public sector workers.
Overwhelmingly, people said that Bill 136 was unnecessary. Union members who spoke to us said they saw no need for it whatsoever. I should stress for you that most of the union members who were speaking to us were not negotiators for their unions; they were not legal counsel for their unions; they were, for the most part, rank-and-file trade unionists. They may well have been local presidents. They did not have the sophistication of the people who often are at the bargaining table in a spokesperson way, but they referred to what they had been through as unions. Most of them pointed to a long history of negotiations with their employers where issues were resolved without need for work action. Several said it had taken years to establish the working relationships they currently enjoyed, and that far from creating labour stability, Bill 136 would damage the stability which already existed in their workplace.
In addition to mergers already completed, some pointed to previous contentious issues, such as technological change or downsizing, which had been resolved without any need to resort to a strike or a lockout. One union was involved in innovative joint experiments in service provision with their employer and predicted the loss of a favourable labour relations climate which allowed this to occur, should Bill 136 be enacted.
There were fears for future instability. In addition to the views of public sector unions and members about the fear of instability, we heard from some private sector workers who believe that Bill 136 is a precursor of legislation to come that will be aimed at the private sector.
In general, all the deputants saw Bill 136 as only one piece of the puzzle, and all expressed suspicion and cynicism regarding the true intent.
Loss of public services: Union and non-union deputants alike believe that the government is headed towards mass privatization and further downsizing in the public sector. Here, the strongest links, I suppose, were made between Bill 136 and other pieces of the agenda.
A combination of downloading of services on to already stretched municipal budgets, in combination with the gutting of collective agreements through Bill 136, caused most presenters to predict elimination of some public services, institution of fees for service and, particularly, privatization.
People mentioned the loss of public control of service delivery, should privatization occur; the inaccessibility of public service to those who most need it in the event of fee-for-service delivery; and the creation of a two-tier system and the resulting entrenchment of a have/have-not society.
People talked about the current deterioration of service. I want to spend some time on this. If there is one group of people that I wish you had been able to hear for yourselves, it was those public sector workers who were simply rank-and-file workers who came and spoke with us. Without exception, they spoke to us about the loss of quality of service already being experienced. We can't possibly reproduce for you the impact of hearing those testimonies. These workers put their client group first, above all else, and they're proud of the quality of service they have in the past been able to deliver. They see their work as contributing in meaningful ways to the quality of life of which we are proud in this country.
Now they see their ability to deliver being eroded, sometimes on a daily basis. They are working as fast as they can work, for longer hours than are sensible for either themselves or their clients, and they feel they are failing, no matter how hard they try, to live up to the high standards they have set for themselves.
For these workers, Bill 136 adds insult to injury. They feel the government has no respect for the service they provide and places no value on the work they do. They resent the extra effort it takes to fight off an attack on their rights as workers and the rights of their union when they are already struggling desperately to fulfil their responsibility to the people they serve.
Pay equity was a common theme. The inclusion of a section in Bill 136 reversing pay equity decisions was mentioned by a number of deputants. This section of Bill 136 is seen as a direct attack by the Tory government on women and a clear statement that this government has no commitment to equity. One deputant referred to this government as misogynist in its attitude towards women. Others spoke of the public sector as the largest single sector where women, people of colour and immigrants could find employment with decent wages and working conditions and wondered why this particular section was included in Bill 136 at all.
The employee wage protection plan: Like the references to pay equity, deputants wondered why this found its way into the act at all. In the first place, it is seen as a clear and further violation of the rights of workers who have found themselves out of work with money owed to them by an employer. In the second place, like pay equity, it seemed to have little to do with the bulk of the content of Bill 136. One deputant mused that Bill 136 seemed to be the government grab-bag for every regressive piece of legislation which had not yet found a home elsewhere.
The ability to pay and other arbitral encumbrances were mentioned by a number. The encumbrances placed on arbitrators by Bill 136 were seen as a complete joke by those deputants who referred to this area, and there were several. One union negotiator stated that he didn't remember, in all his years at the bargaining table, the employer ever admitting they did have an ability to pay. Sometimes they meant it and sometimes they didn't. To place such a restriction on arbitrators is laughable.
Summary: Of the some 50 deputants we heard overall, the positions were unanimous: There is no need for Bill 136, it is a violation of the principles of democracy and of natural justice, and it should be withdrawn. People saw it variously as dangerous to democracy, to public service delivery and to the existence of a free trade-union movement. Public sector workers saw it as an insult and an indication of the lack of value placed on them and the work they do.
I have provided a summary of some of the quotes. Some are from the documents, some are from the verbal presentations and some are in response to questions various panellists we had through these two days asked those members. I'm not going to take you through them. I do, however, want to point to something which leapt out at me. It's on page 3. These are positioned together in the quotes and they in fact did come back to back with each other.
One is by Wynne Harvicksen from UNITE, who said: "I am a young worker. With this government I find I can wake up one morning and find I'm without protections that have been there all my life." The next deputants were Tony Michael and another person from the Ontario Federation of Union Retirees. In response to a question, Tony said: "We seniors look back over the progress we made and the social safety net we were able to help put in place, only to watch it disintegrate. It is breaking our hearts."
If I could leave you with one thought before I close my comments, it is that I really sincerely wish you had had the opportunity to hear all these 50 deputants. Some of them you may get a chance to hear, because I know that some of them were seeking standing. Whether they achieved it, I don't know; I haven't had the ability to check that. So there may be the odd duplication between the briefs we have submitted to you and those you will see in these committee hearings. But for most of them, I know they would either never get standing, with only four days of hearings, or in some case, quite frankly, they would be too intimidated by the process to come and make those statements directly to you. We've got something like 14 hours -- no, we've got more than that, more than 14 hours of tape recordings. If I had more than half an hour, I might have been tempted to plunk the tape recorders on and get you to listen.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have about four minutes per caucus. We begin with the government caucus.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much for your presentation. I have the briefs you have. I notice that just about every single brief presented was from someone representing a union, not every single one, but for the most part.
Ms Torney: There are some, yes.
Mr Maves: I don't see one in there from a local hospital board or a local school board, a local council.
Ms Torney: No, and we were quite upfront about that. We did not solicit deputations from people who might have been in favour of Bill 136. We understand the Ontario Hospital Association is. We figured that those people had the ear of the government. The people we were seeking the opinions from we thought likely did not.
Mr Maves: But even our public hearing process is slanted against the government. Presenters are usually two thirds opposed, because each opposition party usually selects a third and government selects a third. It's slanted, but at least it's two thirds and a third. Those people on the school boards and hospital boards and municipal councils represent people too. It might have been helpful to have that balance in your hearings. But I understand; that's fine.
One of the things you say in here is, "Many people pointed to a long history of negotiations with their employers where issues were usually resolved without the need for work action." Are you aware that if that's the case -- my own city council said, "We don't want to use Bill 136." If my municipality was involved in an amalgamation, they wouldn't get a chance to use Bill 136. If they didn't want to use Bill 136, wanted to collectively bargain and get agreements with their unions -- that was their expressed intent -- they have every opportunity to do so. There's absolutely nothing in Bill 136 that would apply to them if they wanted to negotiate incumbents' outcomes. If there are other people out there who have had that same experience -- there was always this feeling they would automatically refer everything to the commissions.
Ms Torney: I think that's best answered by referring you to the comments that I believe were made from the deputant of CUPE 43: "Clearly the right to strike is a deterrent and forces both sides to behave responsibly at the table. The fact that an employer knows that a union (a) has the right and (b) will use that right if necessary tends to make the employer responsible." The fact that these public sector workers care about the people they serve means that they too use the right responsibly. That's why there have been so few strikes in the public sector. But to remove the right and to gear the process so that all the power is in the hands of the employer automatically destroys that relationship and destroys that balance. There are employers, many of them, who would take advantage of that situation.
Mr Maves: That's fair enough, even though some have come out and said -- and these people's employers seem to want to collectively bargain everything. You think that would just change their mentality and they would just refer everything.
Ms Torney: I don't know about mentality. I can tell you that I'm well aware of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario resolution, yet I now hear the spokesperson for AMO pounding the table on the other side. I might add this surprises me, since I come from an organization and a movement where, if my organization passes a resolution, I am obligated, as the spokesperson for that organization, to express that. But I guess a different set of rules applies on the other side. Therefore, since we obviously don't work by those rules but try to work by democratic rules, the balance of power has to be maintained so that some issues of democracy continue to express themselves.
Mr Patten: Thank you. This is a lot of material which we haven't had a chance to read, obviously, but that's a tremendous effort you've gone to, to ask people to comment on this legislation. We will certainly go through it.
I agree with your analysis, but one of the tragic parts, as you point out, is the tremendous insecurity this has caused. If a simple initiative had been made up front, at the beginning, to say: "Listen, you can appreciate that we have amalgamations. You may not agree with it, but we're going ahead with it, and we want to work with you on making sure that we have the fairest arrangement for everybody concerned, in the most expeditious way possible" -- "expeditious" is the word the government likes to use.
When you look at the premise of the original bill -- and there's some movement and backing off, according to the minister, although a number of people are not sure about it -- and look at the evidence, it doesn't seem to be particularly strong; I suppose there are some isolated instances where somebody could make the case that you'd need this. It's a negative assumption about workers and the employees which doesn't seem to be able to be substantiated by the government.
In all these major pieces of legislation -- you talk about the evil twins. One would have to conclude, using the most objective terms, that for every piece of legislation, when you look at why it is being introduced, it comes down to money. It comes down to the provincial government limiting the resources of these employer groups -- municipalities and hospitals and school boards, whatever -- limiting their resources and placing them in such a position and then providing a tool that many of them don't want to use but I believe will be forced to use because at the end of the day they'll feel responsible that, "We just have to protect some of the services." As you stated, I believe they will have to cut services at the end of the day, and that will affect people in the community and taxpayers. For me, you've made the case very articulately.
Did you hear the minister's statement yesterday on the pay equity arrangement?
Ms Torney: No, I did not.
Mr Patten: Depending on what side of the fence you're on -- the minister said she would hold off on whether they would proceed with this section, given their review of the judgement that essentially said --
Ms Torney: The SEIU judgement.
Mr Patten: That's right. That essentially said it was illegal. We'll have to see what happens there.
In the absence of the government pulling the bill -- I think it's only happened once in the last 10 years that a government has done that. You didn't address the Labour Relations Board, for example, in its new role. What's your view of that?
Ms Torney: There are references to that in some of the briefs people presented. We undertook to try and get a good representation of what people were telling us. We knew there would be other people here who would be making cases, who knew the legalities of the situation far better than we do. I used to negotiate, in both the private and the public sector, but it's been 10 years now and I'm a little rusty, so I like to leave kind of the nuances of what's going on at the labour board, because I'm sure things have changed in the years since I've been doing it.
We thought that rather than concentrate on that, we would try somehow, to the best of our ability, to get across to people exactly how people were feeling about this. I've done the best I can with it; I don't know whether I've been successful. But I can tell you that for women especially who work in the public sector, who saw the pay equity, who saw what was happening in terms of the merger of hospitals -- one woman presented to us who worked in a hospital. She was beside herself with shock at what was going on in the system, at what they were putting up with and her attempts to deal with her patients daily, ever under increasing stress, and now to be hit with that -- she said, "We have forgone wage increases for six years now in the interests of cost effectiveness, so for the government to say we need this, they have their nerve."
People are really hurt and angry by this. You're right. I don't know where we sit with the thing. It seems to me, from all the various pieces I'm hearing, they might as well withdraw the entire bill. Why put us through this? Just withdraw the thing. If I hear, "This is going to change" and "That's going to change" and all the rest of it, just get rid of it. And then the shame, of course, is, why did they have to put people through all this heartache?
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much, Linda; an excellent presentation on behalf of the largest labour council in the province. I'd like to congratulate you on your people's hearings. It's certainly the closest thing anybody's going to get to a fair and democratic opportunity to have a say. I would also support the process you followed.
It's interesting. The first group that we heard from this morning was the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which, as you know, is very pro the Mike Harris agenda. They talk a lot about their polling results, and that is very much what they convey when they come forward. That's fine, but certainly they don't -- and no one expects them to -- poll the unions that may or may not be in those workplaces. They're there to represent the employers, and that's their right. Your job is to represent these workers and convey the message and opinion and needs of those representatives. I think the parliamentary assistant is way off-base to suggest that somehow your presentation is skewed because you don't have the opinion of organizations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. That's not the way a pluralistic society works. We're the ones that are supposed to be fair, at the end of the day, and arbitrate between conflicting interests.
Second, you mention on page 3, "Several said it had taken many years to establish the working relationships they currently enjoyed, and that far from creating labour stability, Bill 136 would damage the stability which already existed in their workplace." The parliamentary assistant would suggest that if that's the case, nobody needs to worry about Bill 136 because they don't necessarily have to use it.
Like you, I'm a little rusty, but I've negotiated a lot of collective agreements in my history too. I can tell the parliamentary assistant and the government members who have never been to a bargaining table that the relative strength of each other, should you have to go into the ditch, is one of the key motivating factors as to whether you reach a collective agreement without any kind of labour action. What this government has done, of course, previously and with Bill 136, is tilt that in a huge way. I would support the comments contained in there.
Interestingly, I think you're the first one so far who's raised the issue -- you heard from the private sector workers who believe that Bill 136 is a precursor of legislation aimed at the private sector. Just take a look at a couple of the private members' bills and resolutions that were floated in the House not long ago. Those were attacking the Rand formula, clearly the foundation of the modern-day labour movement as founded by Rand back in 1946. Scabs are now legalized. They've watered down the relative strength of unions in a lot of the clauses in the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
Ultimately, I think the government is trying to set up that scenario, where employers can come to a future -- they hope -- Tory government and say: "Look, we've got and imbalance here. In the public sector, they don't have nearly as many rights, but we have to hassle and take on these unions that have all these powers. You've got to level the playing field." You and I both know that when this government levels the playing field, they always hit the lowest common denominator they can. So clearly, this is a tee-up to that.
You were asked about pay equity. In terms of pay equity -- and I won't get into details, because like you, I leave that to experts; this stuff is complex -- and the employee wage protection plan, is there anything you can think of that would suggest how the attack in those two areas has anything to do with Bill 136 and the premise the government offers for why they've put it on the floor?
Ms Torney: If the premise that has been offered is the correct one, no I can't. My own feeling and that of the people who spoke to us is that there is much more behind this than the stated so-called stability. It's fairly obvious, isn't it? It's back to the low-wage labour pool, and that level playing field is the race to the bottom. That's what people think is happening.
Mr Christopherson: It is, because the government, when we ask them any questions in the House, certainly when we ask the minister about the employee wage protection plan, she stands up and says nobody else in Canada has it. Well, it wasn't that long ago in Ontario that we took a lot of pride in the fact, being the largest province and the strongest economically, that we would be the most progressive and we would lead the way, rather than chasing after the weakest legislation that exists for working people and try to match it or, worse yet, get underneath it. That's exactly what they offer up. For the deputants who made that suggestion to you, it can be supported with comments in the Legislature, in Hansard, that that's what they're doing.
Ms Torney: To finish with one personal comment, since I've got your ears, speaking as a woman, I can tell you how personally angry it makes me that it's just: "Let's get rid of the rest of the pay equity that women fought for so long and so hard over the years. Here's something we can get rid of. Let's throw it in here and get rid of it." It makes me personally angry.
Mr Christopherson: In the name of a female minister, I don't think she personally should be let off the hook for that either.
Ms Torney: I agree with you.
The Chair: Ms Torney, thank you very much. On behalf of the members, we appreciate your coming before us this afternoon.
EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS WORK GROUP
The Chair: I now call representatives from the Employment Standards Work Group. Good afternoon, and welcome.
Ms Shelley Gordon: Thank you. I'm Shelley Gordon, with the Employment Standards Work Group. With me are Consuelo Rubio and Rosario Fuentes. I imagine you are all anxious to get through this. We don't have a long presentation and we're only going to address one aspect of Bill 136, I think one that hasn't been talked about very much, which is the employee wage protection program.
The Employment Standards Work Group is a coalition of more than 30 community organizations in Metro which serves unorganized workers, non-union workers. Many of them are immigrant service organizations. We deal with assistance and legal representation on employment questions, human rights, occupational health and safety, and advocacy and support for workers with employment issues. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that we're talking about unorganized workers.
I don't know why this plan to kill the employee wage protection program is in Bill 136. I don't know if I am allowed to ask questions as well as answer them following the presentation, but I would be quite interested in that. The employee wage protection program is not something that is needed by public sector workers generally or by unionized workers probably ever, and unless in the transition we're going to have some public sector employers who don't pay their employees when they close, it still won't be part of the public sector transition.
I want to make sure you all know what the employee wage protection program is. I've just been having a quick look at your Hansard from yesterday. Mr Christopherson said it was his government that brought it in. I don't know if you remember a very well publicized factory closing called the Lark case, where 300 largely Chinese-speaking garment workers showed up at their factory one morning and the gates were just shut. That was it. They were all owed thousands of dollars. They stayed together and worked together to try to get their money. That was before the employee wage protection program, so they tried to go after the directors themselves. It took four years, because there were several appeals in the courts. They were actually finally successful in recovering some of the wages owed them from their directors.
Meanwhile, those same directors had opened and closed two more factories, leaving two more subsequent groups of workers in the same position. That was one of the impetuses -- is that a word? -- for the employee wage protection program. At that point, if you showed up to work one morning and your workplace was closed, you were out of luck, or, if you successfully made a claim for wages owing through the ministry and your employer simply refused to pay, you could be out of luck as well. We'll talk more about why that's the case.
The employee wage protection program: You do the work, and either your employer doesn't pay you, refuses to, or your employer goes bankrupt and is unable to pay you. You don't have a union. You go to the Ministry of Labour and you make a claim for unpaid wages. It's investigated by the ministry, and if they agree that you're owed money, they write an order to the employer to pay. If that order goes unpaid for 45 days, you can apply to the employee wage protection program for the wages that are owed to you. It has already been determined that they're owed to you under the law. Originally, that program paid up to $5,000, and beginning this year, that was reduced to $2,000 with Bill 49.
You probably know as well that employees are so far down the list of creditors in a bankruptcy situation that it's useless, right after Revenue Canada and the banks and all the suppliers and all the contractors -- and it's if they know about the trustee and if they fill out a 15-page form. Anyway, there's not a penny to be had for workers through the Bankruptcy Act.
If you show up one morning and your employer is gone and there is no employee wage protection program, you are just high and dry. It can be thousands and thousands of dollars, depending on how long you've been there. If you've been with that company for 10 or 20 years and you're owed three months' or more salary, it's a significant amount of money for somebody. If somebody just disappeared with three months of any of our salaries, we would be in pretty rough shape.
Between April 1, 1993, and March 31, 1997, 50,325 workers were paid out of the employee wage protection program, a total of more than $108 million. That's an average claim of just over $2,000. More than 50,000 workers in Ontario needed the employee wage protection program in the last four years, 50,000 citizens of Ontario, and that's because their employers either refused to pay them or went bankrupt. It's not going to get any better. It hasn't been getting any better, because bankruptcies in Metro are still going up. They're higher this year than they were last year.
In the press release that the minister issued when she introduced Bill 136, she said that by ending the employee wage protection program, employers, not taxpayers, would be responsible for unpaid wages. But that's not what this does. It doesn't make employers responsible. It simply kills the employee wage protection program. Employers will still walk away scot-free.
She said she would press the federal government to change the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The Chrétien government introduced amendments to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in their last term, including one that would have brought workers closer to the top of the list, and then they themselves withdrew that clause. They decided not to put workers higher on the list in a bankruptcy or insolvency situation. They've already made that decision and I understand that the minister finds they're standing by that decision.
Unfortunately, this government is able to use the weakness that was built into the employee wage protection program as an excuse to kill it, which is that it's not employer-funded but funded out of general revenues. I found my brief to the last government when they brought in the employee wage protection plan which said exactly that: Why should taxpayers be paying this? It's the same thing the minister says.
I think there is a way to keep the program going without funding it out of general revenues, and I'd really like the members of the government to consider this. Remember, there are two groups of workers who get paid out of the program. First is the employees whose employers refuse to pay orders made by the ministry. It's already been determined that they're owed wages under the law and the employers just walk away. We have always said that the way to get that money for the workers and back into the ministry is through aggressively pursuing and prosecuting employers who refuse to obey the law.
In Bill 49, the government said they were going to privatize collections from the Ministry of Labour so there would be effective and efficient collection of these moneys, so workers wouldn't have to apply to the employee wage protection program for their money because employers wouldn't be able to walk away. That came into effect January 1. Certainly in Metro, we have no collection agencies working on going after employers for the money they owe to the ministry and to employees.
We suggest that the way to fund the part of the employee wage protection program that pays workers whose employers simply refuse to pay or who disappear is to go after the employers, not to kill the program.
The second group of workers who get money out of the program is workers whose employers have gone bankrupt. In this province, if you're halfway around the world on an airplane ticket and your travel company goes bankrupt, we don't just leave you there. The industry insures your ticket; they collectivize the risk in their own industry. I suggest that employers should do the same thing for workers and for wages. The work has already been done; the wages are already owed.
We want you to drop this piece of Bill 136. It's just mean. It takes money away from the most vulnerable workers: people who rely on the ministry for their rights, who have nowhere else to turn. At least leave it in place until you've tried to put something else in place. Here we are, nine months past Bill 49, and you haven't collected a penny for workers or to return to the ministry's own coffers.
I want to try and give you some sense of who uses the fund, whose wages these are. Ms Fuentes has had to use the employee wage protection program to collect wages that were owed to her, and she will tell you that story herself. I'll tell you about a couple more first, just to get some sense of, who is this?
You all know the people who sell flowers from the buckets at street corners. They're mostly employed by one company. That company claims they are all independent contractors. A test of that under the law shows that in fact they are not independent contractors but employees. One woman successfully made a claim through the ministry, and she was owed $8,000. Her employer simply refused to pay. An order was written and he just disappeared or whatever, so she had to use the program, and the maximum she could collect was $2,000.
Another one is a garment home worker. Again, this was a claim from before Bill 49. She was working for a contractor. She was owed about $8,000 in back pay. He kept bringing the work but not sending the cheques. When she filed a claim, he had closed down that company and reopened under another name and was protected by the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act from owing her the wages, so she had to apply to the fund.
Another one is a domestic worker who was recently paid $2,000 out of the fund because her upscale Toronto employer, when the ministry said to some nice doctor or lawyer couple, "You owe your nanny 2,000 bucks," they just didn't pay it. The employee wage protection program was the only way she could get her money.
Ms Fuentes will tell you her own story. I just want to point out that at minimum wage -- and those are all minimum-wage workers -- it takes seven weeks to earn the average claim under the program, which is $2,000, so we're talking about 50,000 workers being out two months' wages each, who have used that program in the last four years.
Ms Consuelo Rubio: I'm going to assist Ms Fuentes. I represented her in the claim against the ministry so I'm aware of the process. Although Ms Fuentes speaks some English, she feels more comfortable speaking in Spanish. I'll translate.
Ms Fuentes worked for Coffee Time. She was one of the servers at Coffee Time. She worked at Coffee Time for over a year.
For Ms Rosario Fuentes: After a while I was held up at the doughnut shop. My boss got very mad at me because he thought I was involved in the robbery and he fired me without saying anything to me.
When I started working, he paid me $5 an hour. My employer told me he would pay me under the table. I didn't really want that, but that is the way he paid me. I couldn't even apply for unemployment insurance after he fired me. After a while, I called your community centre, and that is where you helped me apply for unemployment insurance and for the money.
After we won the case, my employer didn't pay, and then you helped me apply for money under the fund, because I really needed the money.
Ms Rubio: If I may add something, our total claim, because Ms Fuentes hadn't been paid the minimum wage -- as you know, the minimum wage is $6.85 an hour, and she was making $5 an hour -- was about $2,800, after working for about a year at under the minimum wage. The wage protection fund covered $2,000, so at least Ms Fuentes was able to recover some of the money that the employer owed her. The employer, I must add, disappeared. The employment standards branch couldn't locate him. They contacted the main office of Coffee Time, where they supposedly keep records of all the people who have franchises. He was nowhere to be found.
We feel that women in the situation of Ms Fuentes are particularly vulnerable to this kind of thing. I think it's almost to the day that we met with the minister, with Mrs Witmer, and she undertook and promised that regardless of the amendments she might introduce in Bill 49 and later on, her ministry was committed to taking care of vulnerable workers.
I really cannot think of anybody in a more vulnerable position than someone who is working in a doughnut shop getting less than minimum wage. Asking Ms Fuentes or someone like her to go after the employer, when the ministry itself, with all the resources at its disposal, cannot recover a cent out of these employers, I'm sure you have to agree with me is totally unfair and unreasonable. How on earth is someone like Ms Fuentes going to locate that money, going to locate the employer and take that employer to court to recover moneys that are fairly and justly owed to her? I don't know. Maybe I'm missing a point here somewhere, but I really can't see it.
Ms Gordon: I want to throw in a plug around pay equity. Speaking of unorganized workers, I don't know why the pay equity repeal is in there either. Again, why should we take some of the lowest-paid women workers in the province and tell them, "Sorry"? I hope the recent court decision will change that part of the bill.
Ms Rubio: Shelley talked about a certain group of workers in the Chinese community. I could give you examples in my own community, in a large marble factory, fashioning marble, where a bunch of people who only had work permits -- they didn't even have permanent status in Canada yet -- were left high and dry. The 15 I represented were owed, collectively, $48,000, and there was absolutely no way these people would have got a penny into their pockets had it not been for the wage protection plan. The employer flew to Italy, where he was originally from. Scotiabank was after him because he owed them about $2 million in loans. Not even Scotiabank could get it. So tell me again if it's fair to leave people who have just recently arrived in Canada, who don't have the language, who don't have the resources, to go after these people whom not even the banks can get.
I could give you 100 examples -- we just had one day's notice that we were supposed to appear here today. In every industry, in every service occupation, domestics, what have you, I could give you examples. No way would those people have had a penny had it not been for the wage protection plan. It has given people at least some satisfaction that yes, they performed the work, yes, the ministry found they were owed the money, and yes, they got some money.
What are we going to do now? We're going to go to the ministry, we're going to win these cases, and it's going to be a hollow victory, because my clients are not going to have a penny in their pockets, and these are people, such as Ms Fuentes, who earn five or six bucks an hour, not even minimum.
Ms Gordon: Our position is that we would like you to maintain the employee wage protection program and find a way to fund it that's not out of general revenue. We agree with that. Get the employers who just refuse to pay to fund their piece of it and get them to somehow collectively fund the rest of it. That's the end of our presentation.
The Chair: You have left us time for about three minutes per caucus. We'll begin with the Liberal caucus.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation. We have had some representations on this today -- there was a pay equity group this morning -- and also the wage protection program. Time and again, we in opposition have been asking, "What the hell do these two programs have to do with the amalgamation of services?" I think you have graciously not been very judgmental about the government, but it seems to us that it shows the desperation of trying to find every single nook and cranny to save expending transfer payments to municipalities or to employers and provide as many employers as possible with ways to save money.
We had similar things happen in Bill 142, in the reduction of services that you'll see, in welfare benefits, even workers' compensation, though workers' compensation has nothing to do with government resources, but it's certainly not going to help people who get injured on the job. Then we see it again here, and it will show its face in other areas. All this is to provide tough tools to cut back on expenditures, because those employer groups will be forced -- many of whom have said they don't want Bill 136 either. The government can say, "You don't have to use it if you don't want to," but when you're pressed to the wall and you have to face taxpayers and people in the community and look at cutting services or increasing taxes and trying to keep your staff and things of that nature, many employers will use that tool at the expense of people.
We certainly agree with trying to maintain the program. We'll put forward amendments to keep it. The government will have to vote on those or put forward amendments themselves. I don't know if they'll do that. I don't think they will, because that was not addressed by the minister as one of the things she would back off on. On pay equity, she said that given the decision of the courts, they are considering their position, so she may back off on that. It seems to us that it will be illegal if they proceed, although they have done that before, even having had that advice.
I want to say thank you for your presentation. We appreciate it and support your position.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm really pleased that we had at least one presentation that was focused entirely on the employee wage protection program. Quite frankly, it's just another one of those things this government is doing that is absolutely indefensible. There's no excuse, none whatsoever, to justify going after people who are in such a crisis situation in life through no fault of their own. What really gets me is that this is not some kind of perk. This is money that people have worked for. They earned it. The program is already in place. It's not as if you are even asking for it to be done. We did that. We put it in place. And somewhere this government finds the ability to reach in and take away this program.
What is so hypocritical is that there is correspondence from Minister Witmer earlier in the term, after they had announced what they were going to do in Bill 7, when there was a closure in her riding -- all politics is local. Once we got down to her riding, she was telling the people in that closure" "Don't worry, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that you get the pre-Bill 7 levels of wages you're owed," which would be the full amount under the NDP, because of course they took away half the program in Bill 7 and the other half now in Bill 136.
The hypocrisy of saying, "I'll champion for you to try to get you that full amount," in your own community and then stand in the Legislature and try to defend that's it okay that the rules are going to change from now on is just despicable. It truly is despicable, and there's no justification. I accept your criticism this may not be the best way to fund it, but in no way does that justify the government's eliminating it.
The other thing is that the government says, "It's not our responsibility to change the bankruptcy act." If this was something someone was asking for and this government refused to entertain the idea, you could almost see them saying, "That's not the right way to go," but this is already in place. This is a take-away. It's something that workers have now that Mike Harris and Elizabeth Witmer, supported by the backbench members, are ripping away from every worker who faces a closure in the future when they're owed wages and benefits and termination and severance, and they've worked for it. I'll bet if it was an employer group, you'd be going to the wall to defend their right for money they're owed, but if it's just a worker, that doesn't count.
The other thing the government refuses to accept responsibility for is the fact that they're emboldening a lot of bad bosses. They will say -- I'll bet they'll do it now; they've done it on other occasions -- for every single example that's brought forward like those today; "That's awful. Somebody ought to go after that employer. That's bad. We won't stand for that. We're going to throw the full force of the law at them."
What they refuse to accept responsibility for is that they're making it easier for those bad bosses and encouraging them by sending out the message, "We're weakening the law, we're weakening our interest in representing working people, so you stand a better chance if you're that kind of bad boss." That's the message they refuse to accept responsibility for.
I don't really have any questions for you except to say that I feel this so strongly that I, and I'm sure the other opposition party, will do everything we can to try to wrench this away from Bill 136 and force the government to leave these vulnerable workers alone, just like they ought to leave the vulnerable women alone under the Pay Equity Act, which the courts have already ruled, the first time they did it, is unconstitutional and illegal. It's too bad we can't make a charter challenge out of this, because if it's not illegal, it certainly is immoral.
Ms Rubio: To pick up on something Mr Christopherson said, as part of my work, I have to accompany people to the Ministry of Labour, to what are called fact-finding conferences or meetings, where both employers and employees meet and an officer from the ministry tries to figure out whether you're owed money or what the situation is. More and more often do I hear employers now say, when they're ordered to pay: "This government is going to end this nonsense. It's going to get rid of this nonsense soon." Is it nonsense to pay people minimum wage? Is it nonsense to pay people the money they're owed? I hear those comments again and again these days.
I myself feel totally upset, because I really do not think that the intention of this government -- I would hope not -- is to enslave people, to make sure people don't get the money they're rightfully owed. But when you hear those comments, you have to start thinking, "Well, maybe." That is why these employers are saying what they're saying often enough these days.
Mr Hardeman: Thank you very much for your presentation. First of all, to respond to Mr Christopherson's comments about the give-away, so to speak, to the bad employers, I would suggest that the setup of this program was to look after the needs you mentioned: the case where the nanny is working for the doctor and the doctor doesn't pay the back wages. The government I think should assist in trying to get that from the individual. The taxpayer should not pick up the bill for that doctor.
The former government was quite content to put this in place and put those things forward, and then they neglected to try to collect it from anyone. They expected the taxpayers of the province to pay all the bills for what he calls the bad employer.
Mr Christopherson: So you're just going to kill it and that makes it okay.
The Chair: Mr Hardeman has the floor.
Mr Hardeman: Let me finish. I would agree with you that the government needs to be more stringent in enforcing the orders and going after people who don't pay their just deserts. I don't believe it's appropriate for the taxpayers of Ontario to pay out $200 million and collect $8.5 million back. That's all they were collecting back. They aren't going after the people who owe the money. We need to put a system in place that goes after the people who owe the money, not put a $200-million taxpayer fund in place that says, "As the Ministry of Labour or as individual employees, we don't have to go after the money, because the taxpayer will pick up the tab." I don't think that's appropriate. I think we need, as we're doing with the Ministry of Labour, to put in a greater ability for them to enforce the payment of these bills and less reliance on that fund to pay the people who are owed the money.
Mr Rubio: Mr Hardeman, I believe your government has been quite active in assisting victims of crime. To us, this is corporate crime. You're not saying to someone who's been raped, "The taxpayer shouldn't pay for this; we'll get the criminal to pay for this." We all are funding the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, where victims of rape or assault can claim compensation. I would say that this situation is rather similar. Why should the victims of corporate crime, when people break the law and don't pay people what is owed to them, be left without a penny in their pockets?
I agree with you that we as taxpayers shouldn't be paying this, but in the meantime, someone has to compensate these people. What you're doing now is getting rid of something which has worked, without putting anything in place. You've had a whole year to put a collection agency in place --
Mr Hardeman: But with all due respect, I would suggest --
The Chair: Order. We can only have one person speaking at a time.
Mr Hardeman: I would suggest that it hasn't worked. In fact, what was intended to be a system of collecting from those who were not paying and giving it to those who had earned the money has turned out to be a subsidization, a tax pile of money being used to pay that, and they're not going after the people who owe the money.
Mr Christopherson: Fund it differently. Why kill it? Fund it differently, if you think there's a better way. You're killing it now.
The Chair: Mr Christopherson, please --
Mr Hardeman: In all fairness, the process to get it from the people who owe it is in place through the Ministry of Labour.
Ms Rubio: There isn't. The collection agency --
Mr Hardeman: Yes, it is, but it was not fair to just have the taxpayers fund it on behalf of those who were not paying the bill.
Mr Christopherson: You're so full of it. Your minister decides to say, "I'll defend you in my riding" --
The Chair: Order. Mr Christopherson, that is totally unparliamentary. Kindly withdraw those remarks.
Mr Christopherson: I'll only do that because if I don't, I can't come back this evening, so I withdraw.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Ladies, I apologize for this outburst at the end, but on behalf of all the members of the committee, I thank you for coming forward today. We do appreciate hearing your perspective.
Mr Patten: Can I put in a word just quickly? Mr Maves, is it possible to get a clarification vis-à-vis what were two points of view, from OECTA and you, on the applicability of Bill 136 to non-amalgamated school boards? Could you do a doublecheck on that?
Mr Maves: Sure.
The Chair: Thank you, colleagues. We are recessed until 7 o'clock this evening.
The committee recessed from 1818 to 1902.
POLICE ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO
The Vice-Chair (Mr Jerry Ouellette): I call the committee hearing to order. If the members of the Police Association of Ontario could come forward and identify themselves for Hansard, it would be appreciated. Just in case you didn't know, you have half an hour for presentation. Any time remaining at the end of your presentation is divided equally between the caucuses to allow for questions and answers. Thank you very much for attending.
Mr Bill Baxter: Thank you, Mr Chair, and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear before you today. My name is Bill Baxter and I am the president of the Police Association of Ontario. I am also a sergeant with the Atikokan Township Police Force and president of the Atikokan Township Police Association. If you know where that is, you'll understand why I'm late.
With me today are John Miller, chairman of the Police Association of Ontario board of directors; Brian Adkin, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association; Paul Walter, president of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association; and Dave Griffin, the PAO administrator. We are here today on behalf of the 23,500 front-line police officers and front-line support personnel in Ontario's 99 police services.
Our association has a history of working with the elected government of the day to address issues of concern. In recent years we have worked with successive governments to seek legitimate solutions to legitimate problems. Our record of achievements with respect to the Police Services Act consultations of the late 1980s, the Social Contract Act negotiations in 1993 and the Police Services Amendment Act consultations in 1996 and 1997 stands as a testament to our commitment to problem-solving through professional interaction and meaningful consultation.
Police associations across this province apply this same approach in their dealings with local issues. Whether the issue is a police contract or local restructuring, local police associations seek to work with their employer to find solutions to issues of concern.
Our response to this government's announcement of Bill 136 was consistent with this approach. Despite the immediate and significant threat that Bill 136 posed to the relative calm of police labour relations in this province, and despite the obvious fact that there had been no consultation, at least with police association representatives, prior to the introduction of Bill 136, we chose to work within the system to seek resolutions to our concerns.
Over the past 16 weeks we have met with numerous government members, opposition members and government representatives. As a result of our discussions with Minister of Labour Elizabeth Witmer and Solicitor General Robert Runciman, the Premier's office agreed to establish a consultation process with our association to review our concerns with Bill 136.
We have had extensive meetings with representatives for the Minister of Labour and appreciate the time and energy these representatives have dedicated to this process. We believe that these sessions have provided a forum to address our issues in a meaningful and productive fashion. We have gained a better understanding of the government's issues and believe that they have in turn gained better insight into the mechanics of our existing dispute resolution system and issues we believe are unique to the police personnel of this province.
We have worked together within these discussions to refine and build upon existing mechanisms, to develop a balanced and more effective method of dealing with police labour relations issues. We sincerely believe that this goal is within our reach and wish to elaborate on certain areas of concern.
Dispute resolution: The police in this province do not have the right to strike and we are not asking for it. All that we want and expect is a fair and impartial process for resolving disputes.
For 25 years, police personnel in Ontario have been subject to a neutral, binding arbitration system for resolving police labour disputes. In those infrequent situations where issues cannot be resolved locally, and if the parties cannot agree on their own arbitration process, the Ontario Police Arbitration Commission appoints independent arbitrators to determine the outstanding issues in a fair and impartial process. While the system is not perfect, it has served police employers and police associations equally well in ensuring independent resolution of disputes and, more important, in preventing labour relations issues from distracting police personnel from their critically important service to the citizens of Ontario.
We should point out that the vast majority of police collective agreements are determined through local negotiations without the need for third-party intervention. Nine out of 10 police contracts are determined locally without resorting to arbitration. In nine out of 10 cases the parties are able to arrive at local solutions to local concerns. Arbitration is always the last resort.
Police personnel perform a unique and essential service for the citizens of Ontario. We have special responsibilities and obligations which distinguish us from other public service providers: We are prohibited by statute from membership in trade unions; we do not have the right to strike; we are recognized in law as office holders as opposed to employees; and we are expected to adhere to a unique code of conduct and distinct discipline regime.
In our discussions with the Minister of Labour and her staff, the minister has acknowledged that a separate and distinct arbitration regime is required to address what she herself has described as the unique aspects of police labour relations. For our part we have recognized that improvements can be made to our existing system to promote expeditious resolution of disputes through negotiations. For example, we have agreed that our existing system could be modified to provide mediation arbitration as the central component, with more stringent time limits for dispute resolution.
Last Thursday the Minister announced that the existing Ontario Police Arbitration Commission would be retained. We support this decision and we were pleased that she has recognized the need to retain a separate arbitration regime for police issues. We had told her that the Dispute Resolution Commission would not work, and it is clear that she listened.
We are, however, concerned that some within government may seek to achieve the underlying agenda of Bill 136 by providing a government-appointed chair of this commission with broad powers to influence the arbitration process. It is imperative that the government take steps to ensure that the balance and neutrality of the Ontario Police Arbitration Commission is preserved. A credible and impartial chair must be selected through a consultative framework for appointment.
In addition, the duties of the commission must rest with the bipartite commission panel and not solely with the government-appointed commission chair. A commission whose chair makes all the decisions is neither a democratic nor a viable proposition. For example, the process of determining a roster of arbitrators must be a responsibility of the bipartite commission and not the responsibility of a government-appointed commission chair. The independence and impartiality of the arbitrators appointed in the new labour relations regime must be preserved.
We are also concerned about the principles of the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act and the additional criteria proposed for consideration by interest arbitrators. Under Bill 26, the provincial government introduced five criteria that arbitrators must consider in determining their awards. Police are subject to additional criteria with respect to the interest and welfare of the community and local factors affecting the community served by the police force. These are unique to municipal police and are not applied in any other sector.
Current arbitration awards are taking these factors into account, and the decisions of the arbitrators are not consistent with freely negotiated settlements in comparable communities. It is apparent that the government has had success in suppressing arbitration awards for police personnel.
Now the province intends to add criteria with respect to the principles of the Dispute Resolution Commission such as best practices and affordability for the taxpayer. It is increasingly apparent that some within government will not rest until the awards are written before the process even commences.
In summary, we seek assurances from this government that the Dispute Resolution Commission agenda will not be imported into the current police arbitration system. There has to be fairness, and the appearance of fairness, for the system to work effectively.
Labour relations transition: Police services in Ontario have been restructuring and amalgamating in Ontario for years without difficulty. Thirty years ago there were over 135 police forces in the province of Ontario; today there are less than 100, and that number continues to decline as amalgamations occur, regionalization takes place, as in the Ottawa-Carleton region and police services are absorbed by the Ontario Provincial Police.
These changes occur in an orderly and efficient manner, without disruption in the level of service received by the residents of these communities. The Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services oversees these changes and ensures that adequate and effective police services are preserved. The Police Services Act establishes a clear framework for transition of labour relations issues, eliminating any concerns with respect to collective agreements and bargaining unit representation. Protocols have been developed between police organizations to complement this framework.
We do not have the multi-union, multibargaining unit complexities that may exist in other sectors. The Police Services Act permits only one association to represent the non-management personnel on a municipal police force. When a new police force is created or an amalgamation occurs, the predecessor police associations do not have status and a new police association must be formed by a majority of members of the new police force. Seniority issues are negotiated locally, and existing protocols cover these types of situations. We do not require the labour relations transition mechanisms that are provided for under Bill 136. These would only serve to complicate an otherwise smooth process with complexity and red tape.
The Minister of Labour has announced that the transitional issues will be a responsibility of the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The police of this province are not covered by the Labour Relations Act, for obvious reasons. We suggest that it would be inappropriate to include the police under the Labour Relations Board for transitional issues when these transitional issues are not a concern in our sector.
Current legislation establishes a distinct labour relations framework for police, to recognize our unique status, and this should not be abandoned. It does not make sense to separate these issues across two different statutes, unnecessarily complicating an otherwise straightforward system.
In conclusion, police personnel should be exempt from the labour relations transition components of Bill 136.
I now call upon my colleagues to address several areas of particular concern to their associations.
Mr Brian Adkin: Good evening, Mr Chair and members of the committee. My name is Brian Adkin, and I am president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association. We represent 4,700 front-line police officers who deliver police services across this province.
We pride ourselves in working together with our employer to establish and maintain a harmonious and productive labour relations environment. In 40 years our association has only resorted to interest arbitration on two occasions. In all other instances we were able to negotiate an agreement with our employer.
Like my colleagues here today, our members expect a fair and impartial system for resolving our labour relations issues when disputes cannot be resolved with our employer. Our situation differs from other police forces in this province, however, because our employer is the provincial government, and the government has the ability to make the laws.
Under present legislation, the association and employer must agree on an arbitrator to hear our dispute. Under Bill 136, the government wants the power to appoint the arbitrator, without agreement of the association. Is that fair? No, I think not. It is not fair and it's certainly not impartial.
We were in the process of scheduling an arbitration hearing with our employer when Bill 136 was announced. Government negotiators subsequently informed our association that they would be seeking to delay our arbitration hearing until Bill 136 had been passed. Essentially they wanted to rewrite the rules on how this dispute would be resolved and then select the arbitrator to determine the matter. It is truly a credit to our membership and their resolve that we chose to seek resolutions to our concerns through dialogue as opposed to confrontation.
I am pleased to report that we have resumed negotiations with the province in the hope of reaching an agreement and avoiding arbitration. We are concerned, however, that if this cannot be accomplished, we will be faced with a government-appointed arbitrator. Because of the delays presented by Bill 136, the arbitration process we commenced must be abandoned, and we will have to resume proceedings under Bill 136.
This isn't good enough. We urge you to restore neutrality, independence and impartiality to the process of selecting an arbitrator. Furthermore, the provisions of Bill 136 should not take effect until January 1, 1998. This would allow existing proceedings to come to a conclusion and future agreements to be determined under the new process. That would be fair to all concerned, and fairness is all that we have asked for. Thank you.
Mr Paul Walter: Good evening. My name is Paul Walter and I am president of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association. As I'm sure many of you are aware, we represent over 7,000 men and women who police Metropolitan Toronto, police officers and civilian members on the front lines of Canada's largest and most diverse city.
Today's police personnel face extraordinary and unprecedented challenges and pressures. Staffing cuts, budget constraints, increasing crimes of violence and intense media scrutiny place us in the forefront of contemporary policing challenges.
In the last 12 years violent crime in Metro has increased by 75%, assaults by nearly 100%, and armed robberies jumped a whopping 160%. These extraordinary trends can be found in many other jurisdictions as well across this province. Yet while crime increases, the number of police officers in my community has dropped by 700 officers over the past seven years. We have 300 fewer officers than we did 20 years ago.
Despite these challenges, my members continue to report for duty each day with the goal of doing the best job they can within these constraints, to make their communities a safer place in which to live. All they ask in return is to be treated fairly by their communities, by their employer and by their elected governments, both in Metropolitan Toronto and in the province of Ontario.
The corporation of Metropolitan Toronto has rewarded my members' efforts in doing more with less by seeking to strip provisions from their collective agreements. In our last round of negotiations, the employer aggressively sought to reduce many of our benefits, suppress our wages and eliminate shift schedules to provide our members with less time with their families. That's the thanks they seem to be getting for trying to make a difference out in the community.
In 1985 we experienced first hand the efforts of a provincial government which wanted to interfere with the arbitrator selection process in an attempt to tilt the scales in favour of the employer. Our members reacted at that time with a sustained and very costly job action which lasted more than 5 months, in my view just totally unnecessary. It certainly did nothing to enhance the labour relations atmosphere between the police and Metropolitan Toronto at that time.
The association and the employer eventually agreed to opt out of the Ontario Police Arbitration Commission process and established a truly independent and impartial system for resolving our contract disputes.
This system is contained within our collective agreements. It's one that we fought for quite extensively and came to an agreement with the Metro police services board. As far as we're concerned, it is sacred within our collective agreement, it's the system we follow. It isn't a perfect system either, but it has served our members and our association, as well as the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board, reasonably well over the past decade in providing a neutral dispute resolution system.
Last year the government invoked Bill 26, which placed criteria on interest arbitrators and has had a dampening effect on interest arbitrations across this province, including Metropolitan Toronto. In our most recent arbitration, the award handed down two weeks previous did not reflect the pattern of negotiated settlements that has occurred across police forces in Ontario.
Although arbitration awards are not keeping pace with negotiated increases in other communities, some employers and some government officials are not satisfied by this. In fact our arbitration award was probably one of the meagrest of all the settlements to date within the province. We fully are of the view that some government officials won't rest until they are able to roll back our wages and benefits. We can't allow this to happen, and obviously we won't permit it to happen.
The government now proposes under Bill 136 to eliminate the arbitration system we have established in Metropolitan Toronto, one that's worked reasonably well for both parties. In fact for the most part I think it's worked more to the employer's favour than to the association's. Regardless of that, we are convinced it's a fair, impartial system that is not tilted one way or the other.
Now what's being proposed is that the province will be able to select the arbitrators and these arbitrators will work within the government's agenda. They want to dismantle the system that has been acceptable to both the employer and the association for more than 10 years and require us to be beholden to government-appointed arbitrators.
We simply ask that this government respect the system we have established within Metropolitan Toronto, to allow us to continue to seek resolution by neutral and impartial arbitrators. It is simply a matter of fairness. We ask for nothing more than fairness and we cannot accept anything less.
Mr Baxter: In conclusion, we'd like to end up where we started, and that is to say, when reasonable people sit down at the table and work together to address issues and concerns, they usually come to reasonable solutions. In most cases we have been able to do that. Whether it is in contract negotiations, local restructuring or discussions with provincial representatives on Bill 136, in most instances the opportunity exists to address issues in a reasonable fashion.
That's really all we ask of you. Allow us to work within a system that balances the legitimate needs of police employers and police associations.
In closing, I said earlier that we chose to work with this government to address our concerns on Bill 136. We believe our approach in finding solutions to legitimate issues has served us well. We appreciate the sincerity and openness that has been afforded to us by the government and opposition members in addressing our issues. We trust this approach will prove to resolve our concerns in a satisfactory manner.
Thank you very much for allowing us to be here today and for your attention during our presentation, and good luck in your deliberations.
Mr Christopherson: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your presentation. Always a pleasure to do business with the PAO, past, present and hopefully in the future.
I want to start with Paul's comment and the grin you had on your face towards the end when you acknowledged that in recent settlements, thanks to changes the current government has made, most of the disputes resolved seem to be somewhat -- and I'm paraphrasing of course -- in favour of the employers more than your members. I would just say to you, surprise, surprise.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of your members, and perhaps some of your association leadership, thought that because this government likes to scream the law-and-order line and say other things that sound good -- the fact of the matter is you're all still special interests. You're an association; that's close enough to unions. You're still workers in their mind, and the people who are closest to them are the folks in the management world.
That's showing itself in Bill 26 and in Bill 84 for firefighters. It's showing itself here originally where they were planning to impose Bill 136 on you all the way through. The reality is, they're no more your pals than they're the pals of any other public sector worker or private sector worker in Ontario. I would ask you to think about that.
I just want to walk through your presentation and point out some of the similarities in terms of submissions we've heard from other people representing other working people, and show you the similarities in terms of the message.
On page 3 you say that all you "want and expect is a fair and impartial process for resolving disputes," and you used other words like "neutral" and "binding arbitration." You can almost compare that word for word with other presentations from other organizations representing other working people. You're not asking for any special favours; neither are they, but neither are they going to stand back and let their members be dumped on because of some other political agenda the government of the day may have, this government or any other for that matter.
You ask that the Ontario Police Arbitration Commission be retained. The other organizations are coming in and saying that there's no need to set up the two commissions because you can do it under the OLRA with the board making the decisions -- very similar to what you're saying.
You say on page 7 that you want reassurance from the government that the DRC agenda will not be imported. We've heard that at least twice today from other unions, associations representing working people, saying, "If all you're going to do when you announce you're standing down from 136 is transfer all the awful stuff in 136 into other places" -- in your case it's into your existing arbitration commission -- "but eliminate the name of the other commission, you haven't done us any favours at all."
The other groups are saying exactly the same thing. Again you emphasized the word "fairness." I would remind you, as I've reminded others, twice now this government has removed the word "fair" from legislation that affects working people.
Page 9 talks about the LRT --
The Vice-Chair: That is your time.
Mr Christopherson: If I can close, Brian, I can appreciate your particular situation. Not only are they the employer and the lawmaker, but they want to hire the judge and jury for all the decision-making. We're pleased you're here. We'll support your position and we're glad you're throwing your lot in with the other people who are being kicked by this government.
Mr Maves: I don't know the history, but when David was the Solicitor General it would have been really interesting to know if you had to have negotiations with the OPP on that, but that's another discussion we could have.
Mr Christopherson: Ask them. I'll stand by my record, but you guys have to live by yours.
Mr Maves: I think that would have been an interesting time at the table.
Thank you very much, gentlemen, for everyone coming forward and making your presentation, and for coming long distances. As you've noted, you've met several times -- I don't know if you've all met as a group with the minister and Ministry of Labour staff. Yes? Okay. I didn't know if it was just one or two. You've had several meetings with the Solicitor General now and the Minister of Labour and her staff about this, and it sounds like you're fairly pleased with the direction of most of those meetings.
One of the things I found interesting in your brief was very early on when you said, "For our part, we have recognized that improvements can be made to our existing system to promote expeditious resolution of disputes through negotiations." There are a lot of stories out there about length of time for hearings in the arbitration system, and you've singled out that the "existing system could be modified to provide mediation arbitration." In your view, how would that expedite the current arbitration process? Get some of the easy ones off the table?
Mr Baxter: I think it would assist in getting a lot of things off the table right close to the commencement of that system. With the mediator-arbitrator being the same person, the parties would be in a better position to understand where the mediator-arbitrator is coming from, maybe less likely to want to go into the arbitration system if they're having a clear indication from the mediator as to where he sits in the dispute.
Mr Maves: You didn't mention another possible choice of procedure mentioned in the bill, which is mediation-final offer selection. I think part of the rationale for having that as a choice of procedure was simply that it might introduce some uncertainty and encourage people actually to successfully collectively bargain, a further reason to avoid the arbitration process. Do you have any comments on the inclusion of the mediation-final offer selection being an availability?
Mr Baxter: I don't believe we mentioned it in our brief.
Mr Maves: You may not, and that's okay.
Mr Baxter: Certainly in final offer selection it would be our viewpoint there would have to be tight restrictions on it, used in exceptional cases rather than the norm, maybe where there was indication that one party was failing to negotiate in good faith, had dug in and was entrenched in its position and not about to move.
Mr Patten: You see how quickly time goes when you're having fun.
Thank you, gentlemen, for being here. In my first response in the House to this I used an example I'd like to cite quickly, because it will probably bring back memories. This is the Globe and Mail, Wednesday, February 27, 1985:
"Ontario's Solicitor General, John Williams, has appointed a law professor to arbitrate the labour dispute involving Metro Toronto Police, but the police union president says his association won't participate in the process. 'There's no way on God's green earth that we're going to put our case before another arbitrator,' association president Paul Walter said yesterday in an interview."
Do you remember? There's a beautiful picture of you here.
Mr Walter: Did I have more hair then?
Mr Patten: You had a little more hair. It's in a long style. That was the early 1980s.
I guess the point is that it didn't work then and it demonstrated the strength of feeling of the association and I would imagine all the police forces. The system, I grant, has worked well. You've acknowledged that there may be some areas and you've offered and put something on the table to look at how time frames might be expedited to some degree. I think we've supported your position related to that on the basis of the existing situation and any historical evidence.
One thing my colleague David referred to was, are you worried, as some of the others are, in terms of taking the transition commission and putting that on to the labour board, but not changing any of the criteria or any of the functions or responsibilities that were there in the original piece of legislation, and superimposing that on the Labour Relations Board, and doing the same thing from the Dispute Resolution Commission and imposing that on the Police Arbitration Commission? Is that a worry of yours?
Just further to underline that, that's why we keep pushing to have the amendments here so that you can see them. Almost every group that's come in has said: "Listen, it's difficult to respond to this because we don't yet know exactly what's going to be in the legislation and what form it will take. If it takes one form, it could be fine; if it takes another form, we could have problems."
Mr Baxter: Certainly one of our concerns and issues that we've discussed is there's no sense getting rid of the DRC if it's just going to be renamed. If you're going to bring a like system under the name of the Ontario Police Arbitration Commission, then that would be one of our concerns, of course.
The Vice-Chair: That concludes your presentation. Thank you very much.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION
The Vice-Chair: We now ask representatives from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union to come forward and identify yourselves for Hansard.
Ms Leah Casselman: My name is Leah Casselman. I am president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Our first vice-president-treasurer is Len Hupet. One of our research staff is Moya Beall, and another is Jordan Berger.
I realize you have a very rushed schedule for these hearings and I thank you for finding the time for OPSEU to present our views on Bill 136.
OPSEU represents 100,000 members in the public sector, including the 65,000 workers who are directly employed by the government of Ontario. All of them could be affected by this legislation.
We've been promised that the government will introduce a host of amendments addressing our concerns. From what we've been told, Bill 136 will be completely overhauled. Unfortunately, we've not seen these amendments yet, so that puts us in an absurd position of making a presentation based on an unamended bill and a series of hasty press releases from the Ministry of Labour.
I would also like to note that the government has broken its commitment to hold province-wide public hearings on this legislation. Rushing Bill 136 through the Legislature with as little debate as possible will not make this bitter pill any easier to swallow.
That said, we've come a long way since June 3. Bill 136 as originally presented would have gutted our system of labour relations in this province, and once again Mike Harris has singled out public sector workers as the first victims of his assault on the rights the labour movement has struggled so hard to win. Once again public sector workers are seen as obstacles rather than partners in the restructuring of the public services they provide. Once again Mike Harris underestimates public sector workers and their unions.
Mike Harris tried to undermine the Ontario Labour Relations Board by creating the Dispute Resolution Commission as his own private tribunal for deciding public sector disputes. The Tory government tried to strip the OLRB's right to adjudicate over restructuring and transfer that right to the new Labour Relations Transition Commission.
Mike Harris tried to stack these two new tribunals with his own handpicked appointees. His government tried to strip public sector workers of our right to strike. Finally, Mike Harris tried to prevent OPSEU from representing its own members after downloading occurs.
They could have saved Ontario a lot of time and worry had they recognized the contribution the labour movement can make. These changes simply had to be made and we are pleased you finally recognized this.
We do have additional concerns, however. Because these hearings are so truncated, I will focus on issues which are particular to crown employees. Our written presentation covers wider issues, and others will also address those.
Severance pay slashed: The government is singling out the OPS, that's the Ontario public service, their own employees, for discriminatory treatment once again. The bill amends the Employment Standards Act to change the severance obligations of the crown. Now, if OPS or crown employees' jobs are transferred to another employer, the government must pay severance to the affected employees, but Bill 136 transfers that obligation to the new employer. This means payouts will be lower and will not be made until the employee leaves the new employer.
In regard to our bargaining rights, Bill 136 continues the bargaining rights of bargaining agents in the same bargaining unit, except for crown employees. These employees who were previously crown employees would not be included in the new bargaining unit.
Being decertified at the stroke of a pen: The bill effectively decertifies the unions representing crown employees who are transferred to a successor employer. This imposes second-class status on our members, your employees, violating their rights of association under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Your employees lose their collective agreement when they are transferred, they lose their representation rights and are vulnerable to the whims of successor employers. Your employees are treated as non-union employees and are included in the 40% threshold that triggers a non-union option on the ballot. Crown employees, your employees, deserve exactly the same rights that all other union members in the province have. Counting former crown employees as non-union puts them and their union in a bizarre and unfair situation.
"Reasonable efforts:" Some of you may recall that. It took us five long weeks to get that language, which you're now realizing the impact of these days. The OPS collective agreement requires the government as employer to make reasonable efforts to find employment for OPSEU members, their employees, whose work is transferred out of the public service. This employment must have wages and terms and conditions of work as similar as possible to those in the Ontario public service. This collective agreement was signed by both parties after a five-week strike. It is not an obligation that we take lightly.
Bill 136 fails to acknowledge this responsibility. In fact it is in conflict with it, as I'm sure some of your people in Management Board have told you already. When these employees are transferred out of the OPS, they move out with no collective agreement and no union. They lack the ability to enforce these reasonable efforts, assuming they have been made. They are extremely vulnerable, your employees, to decisions of the successor employer, despite the contractual obligation that you have made to them as their employer.
Putting OPSEU on the ballot does not address the "reasonable efforts" problem. It allows us to compete in representation votes but doesn't help our members, your employees, in the interim period. Counting former OPS members as non-union in vote situations puts them and their union in an unfair situation. It forces OPSEU in some circumstances to compete against itself.
Over the last four months Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolutionaries have seen what the labour movement, if provoked, can do. We are a powerful obstacle standing in the way of his lean, meaner Ontario. We are united in our opposition to any attempt to strip our members of their hard-won rights. In particular, we stand by our brothers and sisters in the education sector, if significant changes are not made to Bill 160, the so-called Education Quality Improvement Act. Mike Harris should be told that the divide and conquer he plans on will not work, not with this labour movement, not after all we've been through.
Finally, I would like to reflect on this government and its approach to labour relations. It is increasingly clear that the Common Sense Revolution is intended to turn back the clock, to restore the working conditions of the last century. To those who may want to return to the exploitation of workers and dramatic disparities of the past, I want to say this: Be prepared for a return to trade union tactics of the past.
Since the Second World War our labour relations system has been based on stability. In exchange for the rights and legal protections we have enjoyed as workers and trade unionists, we have agreed to set limits on our ability to strike back against our employers. The labour movement presently operates in a highly complex web of laws, regulations and jurisprudence. It dictates what we can do as workers and when we can do it. If you continue to attack workers in the public or private sector, if you continue to undermine the current labour relations climate, there will come a point when we say, "No more."
We will continue to mobilize our members against this government and its anti-people agenda, and if we are forced to act outside the law, we will do so to protect our members and their rights. Our slogan in OPSEU is "Whatever It Takes." I urge the government members of this committee to seriously consider this slogan, because we mean it.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you for your presentation. That leaves us just over six minutes per caucus for questioning, and we begin with the government side.
Mr Maves: Thank you for your presentation. I was at a meeting some time shortly after the introduction of 136 with an OPSEU local. I'm sorry, I can't remember which one it was. At that time they brought up the problem of an OPSEU option not being on the ballot, and it was at that time I think we first recognized that as a problem. As you said, in the minister's statement she said: "OPSEU's concern that restructuring that involves employees currently represented by OPSEU...that union's name was to appear on the ballot...employees in the workplace vote representation rights. We agree our amendments would address OPSEU's legitimate concern." You're satisfied that then is something that is taken care of.
Ms Casselman: Yes, considering that it was this government that stripped their own employees of the rights that other workers still enjoy in this province, I guess that's the least you could have done. But there are still difficulties with that situation because they remain non-union, so they actually come out into what we refer to as a silo and have absolutely no protection. They don't have the ability to go for promotions or to bump into other positions because they are in this silo of non-union. They can't compete with any other worker until there is a collective agreement negotiated, if in fact there is one. So it's a double hit for your own employees.
Mr Maves: They would be covered by the seniority provisions within the bill, though, as non-union employees.
Ms Casselman: Which doesn't mean much, quite frankly. They still don't have access to anything in any of the collective agreements, because they will now potentially be in a workplace with other people who still have all the protections of their collective agreements and they have absolutely nothing.
Mr Maves: One thing you mentioned in your presentation was about the community and social services restructuring that took place in the Kingston region that was quite successful. Over what period of time did that take place, do you know?
Ms Casselman: I don't know, sorry. I guess if you were in a hurry I suppose it would be too long.
Mr Maves: I was just curious. I had one other here I wanted to ask. The other thing that was related to the first question, if 500 OPSEU employees are transferred into a non-union workplace of 50 people, then your contention here is there wouldn't even be a vote. Would it be difficult to organize that group though?
Ms Casselman: With the new changes you've made to the ability for unions to organize?
Mr Maves: Well, if they're already all OPSEU employees.
Ms Casselman: No, we don't employ them, you do, or you used to.
Mr Maves: Yes, but they're already --
Ms Casselman: No, they lose their union.
Mr Maves: They would have been already OPSEU-represented employees when they transferred down.
Ms Casselman: They're called members, yes.
Mr Maves: So what's your contention? Once they get moved down, there's a period of time where --
Ms Casselman: The first contention is that, unlike every other employee who will be affected, they have lost their collective agreement. They've lost every benefit they've negotiated over the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years in that agreement. So they don't have any of that. Second, with some of the tactics we're seeing employers use now with your changes to the labour laws and around organizing, the ability to organize is more difficult. We're also the only union that's being forced to reorganize our own members.
Mr Maves: In effect, yes. Thank you.
Mr Patten: Hi there, welcome. In the spirit of the introduction that you have when you quote the minister, and what does this mean and what does that mean in terms of some of her statements, you also go on to say that without the amendments before us it places this submission in the position of groping in the dark. I want you to know that out of the 10 presenters so far today, nine have identified exactly the same concern that you have and, frankly, as I've sat here today --
Ms Casselman: And the other one is a clairvoyant?
Mr Patten: The other one was the hospital association.
Ms Casselman: Oh, yes, they are clairvoyant.
Mr Patten: Yes. So as I've sat here today some patterns seem to be emerging. Let me ask you a question on this. I sense obviously a sense of, I won't say cynicism, but a sense of reticence to accept the minister strictly at face value, and I do too, based on what I've seen. In your discussions with her and based on her statement yesterday here in committee, I don't know whether you had a chance to hear her, she was to provide greater detail. Some of the media interpreted that that she was really going to be specific about the amendments, which she was not. Are you of the mind that until you see the amendments specifically, you must maintain your position of a degree of scepticism?
Ms Casselman: As I said to the press today, everything's still on the stove. Bill 136 is on the back burner on a simmer. The education bill is on the front burner on a boil, and nothing has been taken off the stove. We're continuing to mobilize and to make sure that our membership is ready because we do have a lot of history in dealing with this government, representing the workers that are the employees. So, yes, reticence is a good word.
Mr Patten: In the interest of time, the one pattern we've seen today -- and we asked the minister that, and we approached the minister, requested and asked her yesterday -- but it would appear more and more in the face of no denial by the government's side, the committee or the minister, that the probability of transferring the transition commission, lock, stock and barrel, with its functions and responsibilities and criteria over to the Labour Relations Board, and some form of organization -- it could even be I suspect a special negotiating unit for this transition period, it could even be some of the same people, it may be under the name of the labour board, but originally I had thought that what the government was talking about was with the existing labour board relations rules and criteria and way of doing business and that they would drop the commission and the commission's terms of reference and the criteria that they were employing. I'm led to believe now that that's not true. That's what worries me. That's why we keep asking for those amendments. What's your view on that?
Ms Casselman: Well, the analogy that kind of jumped into my head would be kind of like putting pigs into a chicken coop and asking them to lay eggs as opposed to just adding more chickens. So we're very concerned that that could be exactly what they're going to do, backdoor it through the OLRB. But the OLRB has got 50 years of history in dealing with labour relations, so if you're trying to put pigs in there and get them to lay eggs, you're going to have a real mess, quite frankly.
Mr Patten: It was also brought up by the police association and the OPP, likewise, in terms of the dispute resolution, that that goes to the Police Arbitration Commission, and that that same dynamic could be a parallel to what I just described in the former case.
Ms Casselman: Yes, it's a dangerous game they'd be playing doing that, I would think.
Mr Patten: I would think so too. That's why we try to encourage them to -- of course they say they're working on it. They won't submit them until the final hour where we'll have no chance to react at all. Once the amendments are submitted, that's it. We cannot even make an amendment to an amendment that the government puts forward. I don't call that creating an environment of trust and goodwill based on the verbal expressions of the minister in the absence of a specific piece of legislation.
Ms Casselman: I would suggest that if that's the time frame that you're looking at and you won't have time to react, we will. Thank you.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Leah and delegation, for your presentation. You represent 100,000 people that are potentially affected by Bill 136. Did government talk to you at all before they put Bill 136 on the floor of the Legislature?
Ms Casselman: No, the government doesn't talk to us at all about anything.
Mr Christopherson: Did they talk to you before Bill 7?
Ms Casselman: No.
Mr Christopherson: Bill 99?
Ms Casselman: No.
Mr Christopherson: Bill 49?
Ms Casselman: No.
Mr Christopherson: Bill 15?
Ms Casselman: No, nor on Bill 152.
Mr Christopherson: So I gather you've got quite a strong feeling that when this government says they want to listen and consider what everybody has to say, you're not buying it.
Ms Casselman: I'm really disappointed because we're the only union that got mentioned in the Common Sense Revolution. They actually said in there that front-line workers, that OPSEU had some good ideas -- our name's actually in there if you've read it; we have good ideas -- and that it's really important to talk to front-line workers because they know what's going on. So I would encourage those, particularly the back benchers who are asking the government to get back to the Common Sense Revolution, to review those pages as well.
Mr Christopherson: Why is the government backing down from the original Bill 136, in your opinion, assuming they do in the writing too? Why do you think they're doing it?
Ms Casselman: I would suggest there's a whole bunch of reasons. Polling has a lot to do with it, and all kinds of different things that are happening within the communities. I mean two years of cuts, they've got to start bubbling up to the surface eventually, and I think that's having a big impact on them.
Mr Christopherson: When you say polling, are you suggesting that there was increasing public support for the position being taken by the labour movement around Bill 136 and the effect on communities?
Ms Casselman: Oh, most definitely. People are now starting to relate to the fact that public sector workers are equated to the service that they're no longer going to get. That link is now being made in the minds of the public.
Mr Christopherson: I've asked other unions, and I'll ask you the same question. If the government had approached you before they tabled Bill 136 and showed you what they were intending to do, you likely would have reacted the same way, would have offered up the same alternatives, and if the government backed down the same way they ultimately did, again assuming they do, then could all of this have been avoided by maybe a single phone call starting a series of discussions? Could all of this that the government tends to blame on you and your members in terms of all the fear and the worry and the apprehension and the withdrawal of services etc have been avoided?
Ms Casselman: We were just doing what every other group has had to do, whether it was the doctors, where they say they're going to change it, so the doctors threaten job action, go on strike and get a table to sit down and talk. They're going to download so AMO threatens some kind of action and doing them in, so they get a table to sit down. We just figured that was the pattern. They're going to introduce something, you have to react, and then you get a table to sit down and talk, so we're just kind of following the pattern.
Mr Christopherson: You've learned it real well.
Ms Casselman: Thank you.
Mr Christopherson: Hopefully the government has learned something. We're like you. I'm not 100% sure what all this means and, like you, I think a lot of it has to do with what their polling is telling them. I'm so glad to hear that you're going to stick with the teachers because we know with this government that if you don't hang together, you're all going to hang one by one. That's a given with this government.
Even the police association, to some degree I think, acknowledged that their problems are no less important and no different than those of other public sector workers. Even Paul Walter from the Metro Toronto Police Association said that a lot of the decisions as a result of Bill 26 are now in the employers' favour and they're beginning to understand that, hey, they aren't on the side of the bosses and the political pals of this government, they're just working people too at the end of the day.
I guess the last thing I want to ask you is, do you think it's a possibility that because the government thinks they can't win with the coalition that was built around Bill 136 teachers may be the next target, that they're trying to find themselves a villain to go after? They decided they can't win with you and now they're going to try and pick off the teachers?
Ms Casselman: I think if you listen to the rhetoric coming out of the Minister of Education's office you can probably figure that there's an incredible amount of need there to score some points. So I'd agree that they're probably going to go after the teachers, but I think they'll lose there as well. People understand the importance of public education that's accessible to everyone, not just those that have money.
Mr Christopherson: The Hansard won't pick up the laughing of the government members when you said about the rhetoric. That's what's so difficult to accept: Everybody else's position, no matter how passionate or truthful, is always rhetoric. But the fact that their minister can stand in the House and promise something and break her word doesn't qualify as rhetoric or irrelevant words somehow doesn't come in to all of this. It's just so insulting, and the arrogance that you continue to display is just beyond belief. The only time those chickens are going to come home to roost is in the next election.
Leah, thank you very much, and I urge you to keep up the fight. There's a lot of other people counting on you and others in the labour movement because they've cut the legs out from everyone else, and if they can take you on, then there's no stopping them. So keep up the fight.
Ms Casselman: Well, we've been there before. Thank you very much.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation.
KENAIDAN CONTRACTING LTD
ONTARIO GENERAL CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION
The Vice-Chair: I call the next group forward: Kenaidan Contracting Ltd and Ontario General Contracting.
Mr David McDonald: My name is David McDonald from Kenaidan Contracting.
Mr Don Cameron: I'm Don Cameron from the Ontario General Contractors Association.
Mr McDonald: Some of my presentation overlapped with some of Don's, so I've cut mine down. Could questions come after both of us? You have to listen to both of us to understand what our position is.
I am the general superintendent of Kenaidan Contracting and I am here standing in for the company president, Mr Aidan Flatley. Kenaidan is a Toronto-based, general contracting firm that is at present one of the three or four largest open-shop general contractors working in the greater Toronto region. We are here because we do not believe that the implications of the greater Toronto amalgamation process on the construction sector have been fully comprehended by the Legislature or the public of the GTA or the province.
The legislation will cause hardship, if not bankruptcy, to hundreds of companies and perhaps thousands of workers in the GTA and decimate the competitive bidding environment for public sector projects. The implications of this are not only for the greater Toronto area but will carry out throughout the province by virtue of recent Ontario Labour Relations Board decisions.
I have worked for Kenaidan for 15 years, and for over 20 in the construction industry in Toronto. I was born in Toronto, as were Ken Smith and Aidan Flatley, the company's founders. Fifteen years ago, I was working at the end of a jackhammer, repairing city of Toronto parking garages with Ken Smith as my supervisor, as our company cut its teeth doing publicly tendered projects in the city of our birth, as have hundreds of companies and thousands of workers in the open-shop sector in the Toronto region.
Today, we do $100 million worth of work across the province. We are a success and we have built that success on hard work, as have thousands of others, both small and new people trying to get into business in the greater Toronto area. Our success is built on doing quality work for our clients, doing it safely and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect between employees that creates a working environment where people want to work for Kenaidan Contracting. It also means they have a choice, that they do not want to have a union.
If the present legislation is passed unaltered, our success can never happen again in the greater Toronto area and our future in the city of our birth will be compromised. We do not believe this is the desire or the intent of the citizens of the province or of the Legislature, nor do we believe the citizens should pay the financial burdens that this will impose upon them.
I enclose in my submission a letter that I sent to the Minister of Labour and some recently publicly tendered projects that we have bid on in the city of Toronto for Metro and the greater Toronto area. The little x's beside the contractors on those lists are contractors who would be disqualified most likely in the future, if this legislation is passed as it is constituted at present and if the precedents of the Ontario Labour Relations Board are carried through as most people envision them to be. Thank you.
Mr Cameron: Our association, which includes among its many members Kenaidan Contracting, has a particular and specific interest in a very narrow area of the amalgamation of the municipalities and school boards in this area. Our membership is made up of small, medium and large companies, both unionized and open-shop firms, who act as general contractors for construction projects. These projects include water and sewage treatment plants, libraries, schools, police stations, buildings at the Metro Zoo, Metro Hall itself, and other municipal buildings.
Many of our member firms, particularly the small companies and the newer firms, rely very heavily on public projects to get started and to grow. Also many larger and well-established firms specialize in this public sector work. I will give you a few examples in a minute.
Our first concern relates to the extension of construction union agreements with current municipal bodies and how they might be immensely broadened by amalgamation. For example, we understand that the city of Toronto has the following construction trade agreements, even though they may not employ even one person in that respective trade: carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, asbestos workers, painters, glaziers and sheet metallists. The municipality of Metropolitan Toronto itself has the following construction trade agreements: carpenters, electricians, plumbers and bricklayers, obviously all very important trades. Only nine general contractors in the entire province have all of those listed trade agreements. Some of those don't even operate in the Metro area. Few of them even bid some of these types of work.
On several recently tendered projects for Metro, ranging in size from $4.5 million to $30 million, none of the bidders had all of the required union affiliations, about 50% of the bidders were completely open shop, and the balance had anywhere from one to seven agreements. In one particular project, the two lowest bidders were non-union firms. The third bidder had seven agreements, but not all of the necessary agreements. If you follow the Toronto-Dominion Bank-Ontario Labour Relations Board decision principles -- and I'll speak to that in a minute -- if they had had to go to the third bidder, who as I said doesn't even fully comply with all of those union agreements, there was a penalty to be paid of some $950,000 on that one job alone.
The problem arises when these union agreements stipulate that these public bodies cannot contract or subcontract out to companies who are not signatory to agreements with these same unions. These agreements cover perhaps a handful of maintenance personnel within Metro and the city of Toronto employees, but they restrict Metro and the city of Toronto to use unionized contractors in these important trades.
Scarborough, East York, North York, York and Etobicoke currently have no such agreements or restrictions. A firehall in any of these five municipalities in Metro can be built union or non-union, but not in the city of Toronto. A non-union contractor can do renovations in Scarborough city hall but not in Toronto city hall.
Our association's board of directors, 30 contractors from across the province, about half from the greater Toronto area, from small and large companies, about 50-50 union-non-union, voted on last Friday, September 12 to strongly oppose any extension of the construction trade agreements of Metro and the city to the broader new structure, particularly in respect of the contracting out of projects.
A similar thing applies to the city of Toronto school board. The city of Toronto school board has an agreement with the Carpenters, as I understand it, and perhaps other trades that I'm not aware of. None of the other borough school boards have agreements. The federal and provincial governments and virtually all other municipalities, in fact all, to my knowledge, have no similar restrictions. In other words, union and open-shop companies, all equal taxpayers, have equal access to publicly funded projects.
Our second concern is closely related to the first, and is intertwined with it, and relates to the impact of a recent Ontario Labour Relations Board decision. Until now, contracts with Metro and city of Toronto only stipulated that the work of the name trades had to be done by unionized workers, but they still awarded contracts to non-union companies. I think you gather some of that from what Mr McDonald said, that although they're a non-union company, they were able to accept contracts from Metro and from the city of Toronto to perform work, as long as the work of those particular name trades was being done by union forces.
The Toronto-Dominion Bank-Ontario Labour Relations Board decision, a very recent one, and one pending with the Lanark board of education, will change all of that. The Toronto-Dominion Bank, which has an agreement with the Carpenters union, had, over the years, hired open-shop contractors to construct facilities and do renovations but insisted that all carpentry work be done by union carpenters.
The July 1997 decision now prevents Toronto-Dominion from contracting work out to companies with no agreement with the Carpenters union. Many of their long-term contractors and customers are no longer able to bid for work for the bank. One small general contractor in Scarborough, who relied heavily on the bank for the majority of their work, had little choice but to sign an agreement with the Carpenters one month after the OLRB decision.
The same principle of the Toronto-Dominion decision will inevitably soon be applied to the city of Toronto and the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. Contractors who regularly bid on and perform work for these public bodies and their workers will be denied access to these taxpayer-funded projects. On larger projects of $10 million and more, up to half of the bidders are open-shop firms. When the TD decision impacts, half of the competition or more will be eliminated. With small projects of less than $1 million, sometimes more, sometimes 100% of the bidders are non-union, new companies, growing companies. In such cases there may be no bids or only one or two, and as we all appreciate, less competition means higher costs. One recent Metro job had only one bidder and was 40% over budget.
Inasmuch as we had such short notice to appear here this evening, I was unable to collect examples of current Metro projects, but I believe that Mr McDonald's examples are in there. I did collect some on several school projects that are out to tender right now or are very recently closed.
For example, renovations to science labs in five schools in North York, relatively small jobs, I think probably a couple of hundred thousand dollars in value each, all were awarded to open-shop firms. None of them could bid if the Toronto board agreements were spread under amalgamation. This illustrates that small public projects are typically of interest only to non-union firms.
Cornell Junior public school in Scarborough, out to tender now, value about $5 million, four of the nine bidders have no union agreements, others have from one to six trade agreements.
David and Mary Thomson in Scarborough, science room renovations, value approximately $600,000, 11 of the 13 bidders are non-union.
I could get other examples, given more time. Although these were schools, the statistics would be much the same if they were for a firehall or a city hall renovation.
Our association directors, from both union and non-union firms, strongly urge you to deal with this issue in Bill 136 such that no qualified contractor or worker will be denied access to publicly funded projects. We recognize that workers have the right to belong to unions in the public sector and anywhere else, but their employers, the municipalities, should not be denied the right to tender projects to all qualified firms, and taxpaying companies should have a right to build the projects they had to help pay for.
Even without amalgamation, we're on the threshold of a major problem as a result of that OLRB decision. Bill 136, we believe, can deal with it, and obliterate it or alleviate it, or can ignore it and allow it to multiply and bring larger problems for the future. Thank you. We welcome questions.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you. That allows us just over five minutes per caucus. We'll begin with the official opposition.
Mr Patten: I'm not sure I even understand some of the issues. Let me try and see what you're saying. You're saying there was a decision made by the Ontario Labour Relations Board that extends union collective agreements or union requirements for jobs to be done?
Mr McDonald: No. It affects the type of contractor that can bid a job.
Mr Patten: That's what I mean.
Mr McDonald: I have an example in there where in the past our firm has done work at Toronto city hall parking garage. Some 90% of the work on that job is labourers' work, for which the city of Toronto has no agreement, but a 10% component is carpentry; putting the hoarding up around the site is an example. The general contract requires that union workers do that hoarding for the contract, because there's a carpentry agreement with the city.
That general contractor, when the contract was let in the past, could bid on it and sub out that carpentry work to a unionized contractor to do the hoarding. The decision has changed the subcontracting clause in the Carpenters' collective agreement. It has interpreted the words "only contract and subcontract work out" from meaning that an owner can contract or subcontract out the work to somebody who is in a union to meaning that the general contractor has to be a member of the union.
Mr Patten: Whereas before, that wasn't required.
Mr McDonald: Before, that wasn't required. It has been the same on all Metro projects and all city projects for the last 20 years, and in the private sector as well. We are a client of the TD Bank, we bank there, we've done many jobs for them, and we're one of the ones who are already chopped out of that market by that decision.
Almost all these little agreements or these collective agreements, whether it's the Toronto-Dominion Bank or a municipality, are based upon a vote of two or three workers in a maintenance shop who go out and do some construction work and the application to certify is put in. In the case of the TD Bank, it was two workers. There might have been 500 workers, open shop, working for the bank as subcontractors, but because they weren't direct employees, the OLRB has seen fit to certify the company, and this clause will prevent them from subcontracting any work to anyone who is not in a union.
Mr Patten: So most of the small jobs --
Mr McDonald: Large and small.
Mr Patten: But particularly the small ones. I think it was Mr Cameron who mentioned that unionized companies wouldn't really be that interested in some of these smaller jobs, because they're not valuable enough and they have too many members perhaps, whereas a contractor who's an employee himself with one or two other people regularly and away they go, those are the kinds of jobs they have.
Did I also understand you to say that Toronto was a union-affiliated employer, and if you took the concept of expanding Metro to include all the new areas, other municipalities that weren't necessarily in the same boat would then become the successor?
Mr Cameron: We believe that's the inevitable thing that will happen in the expansion, that successor rights will encompass the municipality of Metro and the city of Toronto agreements in respect of the other municipalities, and so also the city of Toronto agreements with the Carpenters union may well also be acquired by all the other boards of education in the region. That's a huge extension, multiplying it by five or six.
Mr McDonald: But the principle extends beyond that. If there's a greater Toronto regional authority that encompasses Mississauga, let's say everything from Oakville to Oshawa and up to the north, all those non-affiliated municipalities will inherit Metro's contracts, so you'll have double expansion, both the new city of Toronto and the greater regional authority.
Mr Patten: You're addressing Bill 136 as it's written, not as the minister said she would amend it in major areas.
Mr McDonald: There's nothing in any of the amendments which would address the issue really.
Mr Patten: Nothing addresses it as far as I know on this particular issue. Is there anything in there that does at the moment?
Mr Cameron: Not that we're aware of. There's nothing that even gets into it. They deal with their own direct employees. It's this contracting out aspect that, as far as we can understand, is not there at all.
Mr Patten: Just one last comment, if I could, in that I'd be interested in a read from a ministry lawyer on this, because it might fit under some other piece of legislation that doesn't relate to Bill 136 at all, unless, of course, that's one of your amendments.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, gentlemen. Is this a new clause in the Carpenters' collective agreement and that's why it was before the board, or was there a particular circumstance that triggered it?
Mr Cameron: I'm no labour expert by any means, but I understand that the same wording appears in the Carpenters' agreement, the Electricians' agreement and the Plumbers' agreement now, and rumour has it that it might appear in a whole bunch more next spring. I don't think anyone ever visualized it would have this kind of an application when it was first introduced.
It was first introduced and discussed in negotiations, we understand, in the mid-1980s, and it was really dealing with subcontracting between contractor and subcontractors, everyone thought, forgetting, I suppose, that people like the Toronto-Dominion Bank and the city of Toronto and the board of education in Lanark and a few others have these union agreements and how they might impact on construction purchasing.
We don't particularly have a problem with these municipalities and school boards having an agreement with their own employee carpenters; it's the application of it and the extension of it under this thing that's difficult.
Mr Christopherson: What would you like the government to do under Bill 136 to resolve this from your perspective?
Mr Cameron: We're not politicians either, I'm afraid. Some days I'm pleased. If somehow the extension of the current agreements, as they apply to contracting out, could be excluded from anything that's happening in the amalgamation, that could be a solution.
Mr Christopherson: I would think the difficulty is that the boundaries are gone, which is of course your problem. The issue goes one of two ways: Either it will be applicable, as your people are interpreting it here, to the new city as successor rights or responsibilities, or the original decision, which in this case was in favour of the union's position, gets extinguished. So you do have two competing rights. As you see it, somebody is going to be a loser here.
I have to tell you that personally I'm thrilled. I think this is a wonderful idea, but that's a matter of one's perspective. Setting my own subjectiveness aside, I wonder what the solution is that doesn't impose a greater wrong in terms of rights being extinguished, because they did win. If it had gone the other way, I'm sure you wouldn't be here.
Mr McDonald: First of all, you can say they won but the context in which they won is an employer-employee context which the board operates under, not an owner-subcontractor-employee context, which is the way they're actually controlling the industry without controlling the workers.
In our submission here there are three remedies. One is messy, which is to say that for the purposes of the new city of Toronto or the greater Toronto region, we draw little lines in the sand and say that municipalities that have no affiliation now will not be successors in geographic areas, so the present rules that exist now will be limited to the present geographic areas, and that will be grandfathered for the future in whatever gets carried forward.
The other option is, from my view, not the intent of the Labour Relations Act. The Labour Relations Act is there to facilitate and permit workers to vote for unions if they see fit to have them. It gives them the choice in the proper context. This extinguishes the right for a large majority of the construction workers in the region.
Mr Christopherson: Of course, again, it depends whose ox is being gored and how you see things. The fact that it would be in the workers' best interests to join a union may seem wrong from where you sit.
Mr Cameron: That's very paternalistic. We had the Operating Engineers put in an application to certify us in the springtime. Thirteen people voted; four of them we knew. I had hired them. They had union cards. The vote was 11 to 2 against them.
We are a good company. We are model citizens as far as I'm concerned. There is nothing the matter with us. For us to work in this region, we will be forced and our workers will be forced. The board lets us sign an agreement and sign away the rights of our workers even if they don't want it.
Mr Hastings: This particular brief has alarming, enormous implications in terms of operational costs for the new city of Toronto. Do you have any idea what it would run in terms of the ongoing capital projects if things remain the way they're set out here, if there are no remedies undertaken?
Mr Cameron: I would take a wild guess, I suppose, and say it might on average increase the cost of their capital projects by 10% or something like that. There is no way of knowing. I don't even know what their budget is for the coming year, so I couldn't put a dollar figure to it, but that example I talked about where the difference was roughly $1 million, if I'm not mistaken I think it was about a $10-million job. On the other hand, some projects are tendered with union companies and open shop companies, and the union companies win out. So it's a very difficult thing to put a handle on.
Mr Hastings: From your reading of the TD Bank decision by the OLRB, do you believe the rendering of that decision clearly indicates that the OLRB has gone beyond its jurisdiction --
Mr McDonald: I don't think that's the issue.
Mr Hastings: -- in that TD decision, which brings up this tertiary issue?
Mr McDonald: The decision is within their jurisdiction. The problem is a question of the mandate of the board. The board has no mandate to take third parties into account. It's dealing with the relationship between the employer and the employee, and basically the employee is trying to vote for a union. It doesn't have either the public purse in there at all and it doesn't have third parties such as non-union firms that are affected by the TD Bank decision. They are outside the context. They don't come into the deliberations at all. They're just not there. Within their context, they made a decision based -- it's a history of the little accidents throughout 20 years of board decisions that ends up in this, which I don't think was the intent of the original drawers of the legislation, but it's there.
Mr Hastings: Which one of the three options you laid out do you think has the greatest effect of rendering?
Mr McDonald: Fundamentally, I don't see why there's any need -- Toronto is one of the rare places, like New York a fair bit down in the States as well, where the unions are much more heavily involved in local politics. There are no union clauses in public tendering. If they want the unions to have the influence so they can get their way in a jurisdiction, they put in a fair wage clause. Then it's open to anybody. But I don't see that it's right to be able to put a union restriction into a tender document. I'm a taxpayer. I should be able to work in my own province and have the choice of whether I want to be union or non-union.
Mr Cameron: Interestingly enough, the TD Bank decision didn't give any more or less work to unionized carpenters. The TD Bank had in their contract all along, even though they contracted out the overall project to a non-union firm, that all that carpentry work must be done by union carpenters, and people were doing that. The particular case in point was K&L Construction down in London. They were abiding by that contract to the letter of it and it still went to the OLRB.
We believe the union is building up a little arsenal of cases like this out in the suburbs, that being the one in London, and there's another one currently where a grievance has been filed in Lanark against a school board. There are indications that as soon as they get a little bit of the arsenal built up, they're going to come down and wave it in front of the city of Toronto and others. We've heard they're holding back until after amalgamation.
The current contracts with the city of Toronto say you must use unionized workers for those particular trades. Again, we don't particularly have a problem with that. They made those agreements freely and openly and every other way. That was fine.
The people who are being hurt by the application of this TD Bank decision are the companies that may be able to do the rest of the work. I used to be president of a small, unionized general contracting firm. I don't know hardly a company that would be eligible to bid this kind of work in Toronto. I think it's cutting out literally every firm. Those who have all of their onsite workers unionized still wouldn't be eligible to bid when that decision is taken to its inevitable conclusion.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you. That concludes your presentation time. We appreciate your coming forward.
HUMAN RESOURCES PROFESSIONALS ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO
The Vice-Chair: If the representatives of the HRPAO are ready, could you come forward and identify yourselves for Hansard.
Mr Mike Failes: My name is Mike Failes. I'm the chair of the HRPAO government affairs committee. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight about Bill 136.
There are some materials we've handed out. They are fairly brief. We tried to direct ourselves to the rapidly shifting face of Bill 136. It's a challenge to stay current.
Let me just make a few brief comments about the organization. I recognize a number of the members of this committee from previous appearances, so some of you may be aware of our group. We represent human resources professionals in Ontario. It's neither an employer group nor an employee group. I guess it's something in the middle. For better or worse, the decisions the Legislature makes which affect employees and employers in this province ultimately fall into the hands of our members in terms of administration and trying to deal with the fallout, and that's where our concern with respect to Bill 136 comes in.
In our written material, we tried to identify the key areas which have been identified by the government as possible amendments to Bill 136. Rather than rehashing all the legislation and fighting various fights, I want to try to focus our comments on those areas.
Let me start off by saying that it would appear the tribunal commission as originally envisioned by the bill is not going to be, and the duties, in essence, of the transition commission are going to be handed over to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
We can certainly understand why organized labour would be suspicious of these bodies, concerned about them, and why they might be an impediment to a well-functioning piece of legislation. Ultimately, the decision to transfer these powers to the Ontario Labour Relations Board makes some sense.
I know organized labour has made this point time and time again, and they've got a point: The board has been around for years and has lots of experience in this area. But let me give you the big caution: The board has very limited resources. I have personally been involved in three mergers of private sector organizations over the last three years, two of which ultimately wound up proceeding at least as far as an officer hearing. In both cases, it is not a matter of weeks while this thing works through the OLRB system, it's a matter of months. In the last case it was a matter of almost six months before we had a labour relations officer sit down with the parties to try and resolve it. This isn't even a hearing.
This kind of delay, when you're talking about public sector restructuring, is going to be absolutely unacceptable. If someone for a moment thinks you're just going to drop this on the OLRB without an increase in its resources, it's not going to happen. I think Mr MacDowell, the chair, made that point today in one of his speeches. Fine, have the OLRB look after these transition issues, but you better increase their resources and provide enough so that they can have their own specialized expedited procedures to deal with these issues.
With respect to what's going to happen with restructuring votes, it's not entirely clear what the government is planning here. I know they've said, "We're going to recognize the concern there be a secret ballot vote in every case to determine which union is going to represent people." That holds a lot of appeal, I suppose, from the sense of, "Let's do what's democratic and right here," but no one should be under any illusions. There have been mergers upon mergers over the last 40 years, which the ORLB has entertained, and I can tell you, there isn't a representation vote in every case.
They take a very pragmatic approach, and if one union has an overwhelming representation among the employees in the merged operation, there isn't a vote. If the Steelworkers merge with two other bodies, and the Steelworkers at the end of the day have 85% of the people and there's 5% non-union and 10% with the Labourers, there's no vote. The Steelworkers simply get certified. Keep that in mind when you're looking at these provisions.
The contents of Bill 136 now aren't that far off reality. I would suggest you should be fine-tuning those so there is certainty for people; we can do this quickly. If somebody's got 80% of the representation, why are you going to have a vote? It doesn't make sense.
The big problem we see for our members is trying to administer this while these restructurings go on with an air of uncertainty as to who is going to represent whom. It doesn't work in a merged operation. I know it sounds nice and easy to say, "Every collective agreement is going to apply to every group of employees." It just is not an easy thing to do when you've merged the operation.
The right to strike: I know that's been a big issue with respect to the bill. I want to say up front that from our members' perspective, in this very unique situation, we see the right to strike and the right to lockout as being extremely problematic. It would appear that's a done deal.
We came out early on and said we support the provisions which essentially would provide for what I would describe as automatic first-contract arbitration in this very unique circumstance. That's clearly gone. It's ironic. I was actually the policy analyst who was responsible for helping this very committee back in 1985-86 when they brought in the first-contract legislation for the first time. I can still remember every single union, including the OFL and CUPE, coming up here and telling us, "It's got to be automatic in a first-contract situation, automatic access to arbitration if it doesn't work out."
I can remember when Bill 40 came in. I remember Sid Ryan saying, "Gee, you've got to have automatic access." It's kind of ironic now that in what is the first-contract situation of all first-contract situations, the same people who were saying automatic access five years ago and 12 years ago are saying: "No, we don't want to have any arbitration. We want to have strikes and lockouts."
It's going to be tougher than the normal first-contract situation, much tougher. I would agree that the best agreements are always the ones the parties negotiate. That's extremely obvious based on anyone who has got any labour relations experience. But in this situation there are going to be issues which are going to be almost unsolvable in terms of how these operations are going to be brought together and how these collective agreements are going to mesh. Without having a mechanism to resolve that short of a strike, you're going to have strikes and lockouts.
I know that one compromise is, "The first-contract arbitration provisions, as they currently exist in the act, will be there to assist the parties." If that's the intention of the Legislature and this committee, you better say that specifically. It's not 100% clear that would be the case, absent some direction from the legislation. I know there's been this public interest test and that may be of some assistance. The concern we have with that is that it's vague. Anything that's vague is going to lead to delays.
There are going to be problems. On behalf of our organization, I want to say we've got concerns about those problems.
There is an additional matter I wanted to address and that is the transition rules which are contained in the legislation. As I have read the press releases, at least, that's not a matter the government has put up for grabs. I'm talking in particular about the provisions in the legislation which provide for the orderly transition with respect to seniority under collective agreements. I can tell you that if there's one area you'd better make sure is looked after it's this area. There is nothing more sensitive and there will be nothing more irrational. Perfectly rational, reasonable bargaining agents will become irrational on this issue because of pressure from their members.
I just had a merger of an organization which had facilities in Midland and Barrie, looking after mostly disturbed children. They merged, brought everybody down to Barrie. OPSEU, a public sector union, normally would say, "Dovetail those seniority lists." Guess what, though? Barrie employees didn't want to. That's what happens. Everybody sees this from their own little narrow self-interest and the Barrie employees say: "No, we want to have super seniority. We want to be first." Ultimately we resolved this, but it won't be that easy when you're dealing with mergers of extremely large organizations with multiple bargaining agents.
On behalf of our members, we'd ask you to ensure that the provisions which are there now dealing with the early transition on seniority issues are maintained, and essentially provide for the dovetailing of seniority lists and the recognition of service regardless of the bargaining unit or whether you're outside of the bargaining unit. Surely that's fair and that's the way it should be.
I've tried to focus in on the issues fairly succinctly. I know it's late at night. I hope to leave you a little time to ask questions and do this as quickly as possible, so please feel free.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Mr Failes, good to see you again. I always find your submissions interesting. I don't always agree, but they're always interesting and informative.
Mr Failes: I'm going to work on trying to get you to agree.
Mr Christopherson: Well, there you go. I appreciate your attitude and I'll try to be responsive.
Page 3, "Restructuring representation votes": You actually has me all the way to the end of the second-to-last sentence, which ends with the word "held," simply because you make the case that you just did verbally, that there's no real need to do this. Then you do kind of a 180 and say, "Nevertheless, in the circumstances, the HRPAO is prepared to support such an amendment." What happened in the last sentence?
Mr Failes: Let me start off by saying I think that the best solution to this would be to refine the existing provisions of Bill 136 so that people are satisfied with the guidelines that are contained in there, where you don't need a vote, where everybody is satisfied that one party, one group, has an overwhelming majority, and therefore a vote is not necessary.
If everybody is going to say, "We can't agree on those numbers," then, fine, have the vote. If that's going to be a stumbling block here, there are other issues that are going to be even more important here. I don't know if you've got the time to do it, but that's the ideal solution. If someone could just spend a few minutes, take a look at the OLRB case law, it's not that hard to get some principles out of there. It really isn't, and it'll speed things up. If you want the optimum solution, that's the optimum solution. If you want to do the second best, then have the vote.
Mr Christopherson: Time is very restrictive in this case and it's probably the one commodity we just have almost not enough of.
I want to go to the previous page too, Dispute Resolution Commission. Again, you state in the second sentence, "It would appear that the government's intention is to have interest arbitrations continue to be resolved by arbitrators. In light of all of the circumstances" you "can support this amendment." I realize that you try your best to be as impartial as you can. I think there's obviously some bias that we all have and your organization would have, given the makeup of your members, but I do appreciate that professionally you try to bring forward information and thoughtful presentations that are as objective as possible.
Having said that, this really jumped out at me, given the fact that I would say -- and obviously you'll disagree if you feel that way or you'll say so. But I would think anyone objectively looking at moving from arbitrators that are chosen from a consensus list versus arbitrators on a commission who are hand-picked by any government of the day, it is going to be seen to be less than fair and impartial. With that in mind -- I'm very sincere -- how can you feel that this is a suggestion that the unions under any circumstance would agree with, or quite frankly, if you flipped it over, if you had a different government in, that employers might agree with?
Mr Failes: First of all, I hope you've read our submission, that you understand our submission. We're saying, "Look, we agree that you'll have to get rid of the Dispute Resolution Commission," which I think is your point; I think you're suggesting that's right. The reason, at the end of the day, if you're weighing it -- first of all, I'm not so sure I agree that the commission should be seen as something hand-picked by the government of the day. That's like saying the OLRB is hand-picked by the government of the day. If that's the case, it loses all credibility.
Mr Christopherson: But it is losing credibility and you must know that because of the people they're removing from the board and putting on. That very issue is very hot today as you and I speak. Previous governments of all three stripes were very careful about balancing those boards.
Mr Failes: The Ontario Labour Relations Board has been around now for, I should know the exact number of years, but decades, and by and large has enjoyed enormous credibility with both sides.
Mr Christopherson: Yes. That's rapidly changing now. But go ahead.
Mr Failes: Well, I've got to be fair: There were suggestions of that during the NDP government as well and, from my perspective, there are certainly fair criticisms of the last two governments making this a little bit too partisan, at least the perception. Nevertheless, there are lots of very high-calibre appointments which have continued to be made under both of these governments, and I still think that the OLRB has enormous credibility with workplace parties.
Mr Christopherson: Fair enough, but under the current system, on the issue of interest arbitration, it's from a consensus list. That's gone with their method here.
Mr Failes: I would agree at the end of the day that there is so much concern on the part of organized labour that this is going to be a fixed commission, that it will undermine the legislation and just make it too hard to accomplish anything in a constructive fashion if you go with that model. That's why we're supporting the elimination of the commission.
Having said that, a very good case could be made that interest arbitrations, mutually selected arbitrators, aren't the best way to go. I don't know if that's a debate worth engaging in now, because I think it's a done deal that you're not going to go that route, that you're going to go with consensual arbitrators.
There are problems with consensual arbitrators because those arbitrators then come to depend upon the parties to get reappointed, and it's very unlikely they are going to make decisions which will encourage bargaining. They're much more likely to split the difference because they really want to get reappointed.
Mr Christopherson: What's the alternative?
Mr Failes: The alternative is an arbitration panel which is prepared to make decisions which one or both parties may hate, but for the purpose of encouraging collective bargaining in the long term. But I'll grant you, it's very hard to set up a commission like that. It takes some very skilled people, and that just may not be in the cards right now.
Mr Christopherson: That comes across much different from what I see here. Again, as always, your submissions are --
Mr Failes: I did have five or six hours to put this together.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): Thanks for coming. I think you will recall the Common Sense Revolution when it first came out and what we campaigned on. In there, we had said, and I quote, "We are unconditionally committed to reaching our goals, but we are very open to discussing how we get there." We've had more public hearings on some of our bills than either of the opposition parties. We have less bills, more public hearings. We've had more public input and more consultation than either one of the opposition parties.
As you know, the principles of Bill 136 are necessary tools for restructuring, for a smooth transition, dealing fairly with both the union and non-union employees, minimizing service disruption and giving better service at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers. With the amendments we're proposing, we feel we're addressing all the concerns of all the stakeholders -- again, we're committed to that and we're up front with it -- without sacrificing or compromising a single one of our objectives.
Getting to your written report, not your verbal report, on the right to strike on page 3, you say, "The best collective agreements are those which are negotiated by the parties, rather than being imposed by third parties." I couldn't agree with you more. But you go on to say that you have some concern in that you would ask the government "to amend legislation to allow strikes in the first collective agreement situation." It is your view "that special provision should be made in the legislation to extend upon the grounds on which first-contract arbitration is available."
I'd like to know why you're concerned about that, and I'm going to quote some quotes from Sid Ryan. He said, "We are prepared to find a way to guarantee that there will be no disruption in service when it comes to the transition period." In another quote, "I mean, if the real goal is, as stated, to ensure a smooth transition of services during amalgamations, we can guarantee that." Another quote: "If the real goal of Bill 136, for example, is to ensure a smooth transition with no labour disruptions, you know, I know myself, that our union can guarantee that."
Why would you have a concern or why would you want what you stated on page 3, special provision? There's a concern that maybe you don't agree with Mr Sid Ryan.
Mr Failes: I'm not sure which parts of that were questions. If you're getting a lot of criticism from both sides, as you may well be during these hearings, maybe you're doing the right thing. That's just something you might want to think about. Maybe you've truly found the middle ground.
Having said that, you will find no bigger proponent of the right of parties to negotiate, the importance of parties negotiating, their own collective agreements than our organization and me. I generally think that imposing arbitration, unless absolutely necessary because some overriding public interest is concerned, for example, the hospital, the firefighters, is just the wrong thing to do.
I'm very cautious with respect to the value of first-contract arbitration. I can tell you when I sat in this committee and we brought Paul Weiler in, who is, I think anyone would agree, one of the top experts in North America on labour law, and in fact was chair of the BC board when they had their first-contract arbitration, he emphasized the importance of not having automatic access to arbitration because it chills bargaining. Have a threshold.
Having said all of that, the reason our members are concerned in this situation is because this is a one-off, hopefully never to be repeated, situation with enormous complexity. The parties will be faced with issues that they have never been faced with before and will never be faced with again, and in which there'll be incredible vested interest in various segments of the organization. You know right now the school boards that are amalgamating have issues over which computer systems they're going to use, and they're fighting about it. Wait until they start getting into serious labour relations issues.
If you don't have a mechanism in place to deal with that, there's a great potential for chaos in public services. Having said that, it may be possible to work within the confines of the first-contract legislation in the Labour Relations Act, to apply it in such as way that the parties are encouraged to negotiate as much as possible, and that will be minimized. But it's going to be a real change. That's why we were supportive of the original proposal. That's why we're concerned about this.
Mr Patten: Mr Failes, your submission to Bill 199 was far more extensive than this.
Mr Christopherson: They had all that time to prepare.
Mr Failes: Well, I was offered the 10 o'clock time slot today after 9:30 this morning.
Mr Patten: Now why is that? Were you caught short in terms of being invited here?
Mr Failes: No, I think that we actually are very appreciative of the opportunity. Given the time frames that were involved, we're just happy to be here.
Mr Patten: A diplomat.
Mr Hastings: He didn't bite.
Mr Patten: I'll put you down as a maybe. How's that? You talk about guarantees or certain obligations such as the right to final arbitration, whatever, and you're saying that undercuts collective bargaining. But you said there could be other thresholds. What are those other thresholds?
Mr Failes: One of the issues you're going to see coming up when you do these mergers is situations where various vested interest groups within the organizations being merged, or within the employee groups which are part of the merger, want to protect.
Mr Patten: Sorry?
Mr Failes: Well, there are going to be vested interests. The obvious one, and I think the legislation deals with this, is seniority rights. But there are going to be other provisions. There are going to be different benefit plans, for example, different hours of work, wages, and trying to mesh these things it's not going to be simply a matter of doing what's right. There are going to be vested interest groups that are going to resist doing what's right and what's fair for everybody.
It's going to be very difficult for the parties to resolve, because even the bargaining agent, who, don't forget, may never have represented a significant portion of this bargaining unit before this year, is going to have a very difficult time getting control over the members or, in the case of the employer group, getting control over the different factions there. It's a kind of challenge that doesn't exist in normal collective bargaining.
If you're going to say we're not going to have automatic arbitration, we're going to preserve the right to strike and we're going to put this under the Labour Relations Act, all you're left with are the first-contract arbitration provisions. I'm not sure how well they're going to work, but it is possible that the board may be able to fashion an appropriate approach to encourage bargaining as far as possible. But I suggest to you it's a second-best solution.
Mr Patten: The minister said last night that she would -- she didn't say to what extent or how much, but she said the Labour Relations Board would be given the resources to do the job, which was at least a commitment to acknowledge that they would need additional resources.
Now what's your bet? Do you see, and I've been asking this of almost each witness, because most people aren't sure what's going to happen and that's why the amendments before us, or that should be before us, are important -- as a matter of fact there's more latitude now than I thought as of yesterday. I can see the ways in which the amendments are so important because they can deal with the contracts.
For example, they could just deal with revamping the Labour Relations Act or they could change the terms, which they would have to do, I suspect, so there would be amendments to that. Then the minister is saying she's transferring the functions and the responsibilities and, in asking her specifically about the criteria, she said also the criteria of the transition commission. It makes us wonder what's different other than saying, "We'll discard the commission and we're going to let the Labour Relations Board do the job."
Then it raises other questions of even the structures within the Labour Relations Board. It could be a special negotiating unit called the Labour Relations Board transitional unit. It could be meaningless in a fundamental sense. I think many people were thinking when it was to be transferred to the Labour Relations Board, it was under the existing ways of them carrying out their duties of trying to resolve conflicts or disputes or collective bargaining processes etc. What's your view on that?
Mr Failes: I'm not sure which criteria would be transferred from the existing legislation to the Labour Relations Board.
Mr Patten: Ability to pay, or it could the public interest.
Mr Failes: Those are all interest arbitration issues which, as I understand it, the board would not be dealing with as part of the transition. They'd be dealing with the restructuring of the bargaining units and so on. Presumably every interest arbitrator in Ontario could be bound by those criteria.
But with respect to the board, the advantage I would see in transferring this to the board, the fundamental advantage is twofold. Number one, expertise; number two, and I'd still say perceived neutrality as opposed to the perceived non-neutrality or bias of this new commission. If all of organized labour is going to think the new commission's fixed, you're just never going to have anybody moving forward on constructive issues. Those seem to be the two big advantages of getting into the board.
Mr Patten: A quick question, because my time's probably running out. It's a double question. One is the element of time, because it seems to me all parties seem to recognize the importance of that and budgets and the effect of the transition period coming into effect as of January 1, all those kinds of things, number one; and two, is it possible in your experience, to categorize issues that are, let's say, of A and B significance; in other words, as you say, negotiations of amalgamations of two school boards with two different computer systems, which I know of -- that's exactly the situation in Ottawa-Carleton -- or two different companies who handle their benefits packages, and what do they do under those circumstances, those kinds of things.
Some of those could be put aside saying, fundamentally under the terms of your contract and your benefits and your wages, this sort of thing, those we're going to work out as priority A, and the others will have some kind of a process of which they will be part to sort those out, and therefore you're able to simplify somewhat an extremely complex set of issues if you look at all of them combined.
The Vice-Chair: That just about wraps up. We have a couple of seconds left for a quick response.
Mr Failes: A quick response then. Number one, the legislation has already dealt with seniority. That's the one that's almost like the Gordian knot. You got to keep that. Beyond that, the biggest problem you're going to have is time when you try to operate under different collective agreements. If you can get a speedy resolution of which bargaining agent is in charge or which collective agreement applies, a lot of this stuff will work out in the wash.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation.
The Vice-Chair: I call the next presenter, a representative from Hamilton CUPE.
Ms Susan Arab: Thank you for the opportunity to speak on Bill 136. My name is Susan Arab. Dave Michar could not make it tonight, so he sent me in his place. I should say that I work for CUPE; however, the comments here are from myself as an individual.
The first point I'd like to make is how difficult it has been to comment on Bill 136, given that I don't exactly know what's going to be in Bill 136. I have the bill in front of me, I have the statements of the Minister of Labour and I have news reports. I'm going to take the statements at face value and I'm not going to deal with those aspects of the bill that the minister now says will be removed, such as the Dispute Resolution Commission or the Labour Relations Transition Commission. Clearly I have problems with those, but I don't want to waste my time talking about those particular issues.
I first want to start by saying that Bill 136 is an anti-union bill. It was an anti-union bill when it was introduced in June and it continues to be an anti-union bill, even with all the amendments that have been made. You can see it from the very beginning if you look at the purpose clause of Bill 136, in particular the third part of the purpose clause in schedule A, which states, "To encourage best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers."
I know what "best practices" means. It's a jargon term that's been put together by some management consultant and it doesn't mean what it seems to mean. It's used in Bill 136 to undermine the standard of living I believe we enjoy here in Ontario. Best practices compares the wages and working conditions of public servants with the wages and working conditions of less fortunate workers in Ontario. It says that unionized jobs should be eroded if there's a non-union person who's willing to work at that job for less.
I believe "best practices" implies that it's always better to pay less for somebody to do a job. What it seems to me the government is saying to so many public sector workers is, "You get paid too much, so we're going to cut your wages by $3 or $4 an hour."
There's always going to be somebody out there who's going to be willing to work at a job for less money, but this committee should ask themselves if we want to go down that road. We can start talking about workers in Thailand and workers in Mexico who get paid less than Canadians, but we're not going to want to compete with them for every good and service because then everyone in Canada will be out of work, our economy would be in tatters and we wouldn't be able to buy anything.
As a matter of fact, when you start looking at what the major economic indicators are in Canada and what we use to determine what is good in our economy, we look at buying power. Every economic indicator we have is based on our population having decent jobs, getting paid decent wages. Housing starts, retail sales, bankruptcy statistics, unemployment levels, GDP: Every single one of these indicators is relied upon with respect to ensuring there are decent jobs paying decent wages. If you cut the money that people have to spend, economic indicators go down and the economy is in decline.
There is no shame in paying people decent wages for doing decent work. This is a principle of the union movement and I agree with it. People shouldn't undercut each other, but people should work together to ensure everybody gets decent wages and working conditions.
Let me say that any sort of purpose of one legislation which is to compare wages and working conditions of unionized workers unfavourably with those of the lowest common denominator is an anti-union bill.
I want to deal with a few of the specifics. First, on the right to strike, I understand the Minister of Labour has indicated the government will be reinstating the right to strike, and I'm very happy to hear that. I also understand from the minister's statement that they want a discussion on public interest criteria with respect to when should that right to strike be removed again.
It is my view that there should be no public interest criteria put forward. If there is a case of a strike that seriously jeopardizes the health and safety of individuals in the province, then the government has every power it needs currently to deal with that. That power is back-to-work legislation and it's not something I would advocate or condone on a regular basis; however, at least that sort of legislation becomes part of a public forum and a public debate where the government and Her Majesty's loyal opposition can decide whether this is actually in the public interest. Public interest criteria take that debate out of the public forum, and I think that is very wrong.
I also would like to point out that I don't think the strike-lockout mechanism is something that's going to be used very heavily during negotiations or is something that stops the parties from bargaining fairly. I think strike-lockout mechanisms actually help parties bargain fairly. Strikes result in periods of no pay for people; when they go on strike they don't get paid. So people do not go on strike for frivolous reasons. They go on strike for serious reasons because it usually means an extended term where they do not get any pay.
People will not walk off the job if they're not convinced of the importance of the issue and, conversely, employers know they risk a strike and a cessation of services if they demand unreasonable things. If they demand takeaways, if they demand major cuts in job security, then people will strike, but if employers are reasonable, then people will not strike.
It's the potential of a strike or a lockout that is the risk that ensures both parties work together to attempt to fashion a collective agreement that is reasonable and that meets people's concerns and needs. So I believe the right to strike is important and should be reinstated.
The next issue, which is extremely important because it doesn't seem to me the government has dealt with it as extensively in its statements, is the whole issue of independent and fair arbitration. I'm concerned about the changes the government is proposing. I'm happy to hear the Dispute Resolution Commission is gone, but it's important that the interest arbitration system in this province remain independent and fair, and it cannot remain fair if it is not independent. I believe the proposed changes to Bill 136 do a lot to the detriment of the independence of the arbitration system.
I would suggest Bill 136 interferes with the arbitration process by telling arbitrators what they must consider. In particular, I want to refer back to the "best practices" criterion that is in the Bill 136 legislation. In addition to a whole host of other criteria that were implemented with respect to Bill 26, this is clearly geared I submit to forcing wages and benefits rollbacks on health care, police and firefighters.
I do not believe that criteria such as best practices or ability to pay are fair and impartial. No union would ever set as a standard in negotiations in the right-to-strike sector what the wages and working conditions were in non-union workplaces. People unionize to better their wages and working conditions. It's a fact of life that people join unions to better their wages and working conditions. Why would anybody look to a lower standard to negotiate a collective agreement? A union that did that would not be doing their job. So this criterion is not neutral, it's not non-partisan. It deals with the views of one party to the collective agreement, not the other party to the collective agreement. It is a criterion that is without any value in it; it is government interference against workers with respect to the binding arbitration system.
It's interesting to note that if you look back, the only public commission I know about that looked into the issue of interest arbitration was the 1974 Johnston commission. This came out after a series of illegal hospital strikes in the 1970s here in Ontario. It was commissioned by the Conservative government of the time.
One of the responses of the Johnston commission in the report was, and I just want to quote a little bit of it:
"In our view, government guidelines or ability to pay have no place as criteria for setting hospital compensation. Supporters of such criteria argue that as ability to pay is a factor in private sector bargaining, it is also relevant in the quasi-public sector. We consider the comparison invalid, because the absence of product market forces of supply and demand in the public hospital sector of the right to strike and lockout sanctions strips the ability-to-pay concept of any meaning it may have in the private sector.
"We do not deny that public hospital expenditures in Ontario are subject to some upper limit. Furthermore, it is quite appropriate for the Ministry of Health to inform hospitals and their contract negotiators of the estimated total government expenditures on public hospitals. However, such estimates should not be made public, should not be admissible as evidence to an arbitration tribunal and in no way should influence any settlement made by such a tribunal. Clearly such an influence might undermine application of the external comparability criterion. Further, as long as employees have no access to the strike weapon to test the ability-to-pay pressures, ceilings should not be imposed upon them."
Even in a commission that was commissioned by the government, they argued that certain criteria should not be bound on arbitrators with respect to what their decisions were.
I'm also very concerned with respect to interest arbitration that the government may be imposing changes on the arbitration process itself. I understand the Minister of Labour will be given the power to determine whether the parties engage in traditional arbitration, mediation arbitration or final-offer selection.
There are major problems with final-offer selection, and mediation arbitration does not always work. Also, I have some questions with respect to how a decision will be made. Will the government solicit submissions from the parties with respect to what is the appropriate method of arbitration in each individual circumstance, or will they unilaterally determine it without any input?
You would end up with additional delays to the arbitration process if you solicit submissions, and if you don't solicit submissions, then the government will not be taking into account the specifics of a particular bargaining situation. Why it is that the government wishes to force different forms of arbitration on to parties when the traditional form has been used and accepted for such a long period of time?
Workers covered by interest arbitration are deemed essential to the health and safety of this province, and as such, they should be seen for what they are, providing an invaluable service. We submit they should not face both a removal of the right to strike, which is a test of what they are worth to the public, and then be forced into an arbitration system and an arbitration board that is directed by legislation to disregard their interests and concerns.
No one in the community underestimates the value of our health care system, our fire departments or our police departments. However, it seems to me that Bill 136 singles out essential service workers, especially if the right to strike is unfettered. It singles out essential service workers for unfair treatment.
Finally, if the government wants labour peace, they should not try to mess with the arbitration system. If people feel they have no fair means of getting their interests met through an arbitration system, then they will strike. The reason, as I indicated before, that the Ontario government set up the commission in 1974 was a series of illegal strikes by workers who felt they were unhappy with the results of the interest arbitration system prior to 1974, and felt they weren't getting a fair shake. People will take matters into their own hands if they do not feel the recourse they have is fair, neutral or impartial.
I just want to make some final comments on pay equity, because it's very troubling for me to see this government propose that restructuring be used as an excuse to roll back wages of women. In my feeling, this is what Bill 136 does.
The pay equity legislation which was passed in 1987 provided for only minimum equal-pay-for-equal-work value. Employees in female-dominated classifications were compared to the lowest-paid, male-dominated job class. There were plenty of equal-value, male-dominated job classes that were paid higher amounts of money. The Pay Equity Act brought minimal pay equity into effect, but the Pay Equity Act also protected these women from ever losing what they had gained so that it would protect them against employers creating new, lower-paid, male-dominated jobs. It was a maintenance provision to the pay equity legislation. Now these protections are gone when public services are restructured and when there appears, in a restructured workplace, lower-paid, male-dominated job classes. This could mean reductions for many women.
In conclusion, I just want to ask elected representatives to think about something. Are you willing to stand and look at a cleaner at the Toronto Hospital and say, "I think you should get paid $3 an hour less"? Are you willing to tell the woman who cares for your children that she is overpaid at $25,000 a year? Are you willing to issue a layoff notice to a health care aide who has had 20 years of service in a nursing home because there is somebody out there who is willing to do her job for $10 an hour? If you're not willing to do that, then you have to change Bill 136. Thank you for this time.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. I need to clarify something at this time. When I introduced you and stated you had 30 minutes, that was under the pretense that you represented the Hamilton CUPE union, and being that you stated you had individual views, under section 5(b) of the motion I'm dealing with you have 20 minutes. That allows us two minutes per caucus for questions and answers, and we begin with the government side.
Mr Froese: Thank you for coming -- I think. Would it be fair to say you don't agree with anything this government is doing or has done? From your comments, it would appear so.
Ms Arab: There are a lot of things with this government I wouldn't agree with. I would have to look back over every single action that was taken by this government to say whether I disagreed with absolutely everything.
Mr Froese: In your comments you stated that you feel that wherever they work, unless employees are unionized, they don't get paid very well, they don't have the benefits.
Ms Arab: No, I would not say that. That's not my impression.
Mr Froese: You had stated that you feel, wherever they work, unless employees are unionized, they don't get paid very well, they don't have the benefits.
Ms Arab: No, I would not say that. That's not my impression.
Mr Froese: You had stated that the goal of the union is to get the best possible pay, the best benefits. I don't necessarily disagree with your group, CUPE or OPSEU. I don't necessarily disagree that those are the things you want to obtain, but some of the union groups have said, "Whatever it takes to get whatever we want."
I would suggest there are a lot of people who would disagree that just because you're in a union, you get the best paid job and the best benefits. I came from the private sector. We didn't have a union where we were, and we got a beautiful benefit package and a wage package. When we talked about the bill itself, it's about restructuring, it's about that smooth transition and dealing fairly with union and non-union employees.
Ms Arab: I'm not suggesting the bill is not about restructuring. I wanted to address the issues with respect to the collective agreements and collective bargaining, which actually have very little to do with restructuring. Schedule B of Bill 136 does deal with restructuring. I may have some problems with the way schedule B works, but I will admit it deals with restructuring and transitions between the mergers and amalgamations of municipalities, hospitals and school boards.
What I find hard to believe and understand is why we need to impose so many limitations on collective agreements and collective bargaining. The fact of the matter is that the limitations are not simply for a restructuring period. For essential service workers these amendments are going to be permanent.
The amendments to HLDAA, the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act, to the Police Services Act and to the firefighters act are permanent amendments. These are not transitionary measures. The government did not put into place in Bill 136 legislation that would expire for hospitals, fire and police once the restructuring was over. The Bill 136 amendments were permanent amendments for the essential service workers. So it had nothing to do with restructuring or a transitional period. It had everything to do with changing the method of dispute resolution within the essential service sector.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation. It sounded very thoughtful. Two quick questions: Would it have been helpful for you to have the amendments before you?
Ms Arab: It would have been extremely helpful, because it's hard to comment on something when I don't know what the t's and i's --
Mr Patten: It's difficult because I know in your comments you actually went back to some of the things the minister had addressed.
I would like to go back to your first statement, on best practices. I re-read the section under the purpose, and it says, "To ensure the expeditious resolution of disputes during collective bargaining." You probably have no problem with that statement.
Ms Arab: No.
Mr Patten: "To encourage the settlement of disputes through negotiations." You probably have no problem with that statement.
Ms Arab: No problem.
Mr Patten: "To encourage best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services" --
Ms Arab: I have a problem with the "best practices," because I understand what that --
Mr Patten: I didn't finish it: "that are affordable for taxpayers." I think that's the one that's the catch in this. Best practices can be best practices of professionals in their delivery of service. It doesn't necessarily mean the best practices related to your labour, work conditions. In other words, it could be interpreted in a broader way. But I take your point and I think it is a qualified thing. Its motivation is around economics and money and saving thereof, and providing a tool for employers, be they municipal or hospital or educational or whatever. That qualifier there is sort of the tip-off, and I agree with your statement. Do you take at face value what the minister says as being what will happen?
Ms Arab: Do I take it at face value? If I had the amendments I could see what was specifically meant. Some statements were very clear and I take those at face value. Some statements could be interpreted in different ways. It's hard to know exactly how to interpret them until you see the amendments in front of you.
Mr Patten: I have some worries about it, because even where it says, "We will take away the dispute resolution," in the next breath the minister says that she's going to take the functions, duties, criteria, and pass it over to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, or in the case of police -- what is it called, the arbitration commission, whatever it is -- and that what's happening is that the same criteria by which they would function are being carried over to this area. It could be read that way.
Ms Arab: Yes.
Mr Christopherson: That was an exceptional presentation by any measure. I watched and you didn't glance at your notes very much at all. Obviously you have an excellent understanding of what's going on, history, and have thought through your own beliefs and values. Obviously I share just about every one of them. I really thought it was a fascinating presentation.
Before I ask you a question, I wanted to comment on Mr Froese, because he made a valid point when he said that there are some exceptional non-union employers who pay very good wages and benefits. But I would say to him there are reason for that, and two of the main reasons would be that they're either afraid of having a union in there and it's a strategic move -- I'm from Hamilton; Dofasco has done that for decades. They always waited until the United Steelworkers of America, Local 1005, negotiated with Stelco and then they used to pay traditionally two cents an hour more, and they matched virtually everything else. The goal was, "You don't need to go on strike; you'll always get what they get and you don't have to pay union dues." That's now changing but that was part of their system.
The other thing is, if it's not a contrived attempt by an employer to keep the union out, then an exceptionally good employer is looking around for a benchmark. They're saying, "I want to pay my employees decent wages and benefits," and they'll say, "That seems to be the predominant rate in union shops where they've got really what's seen as good wages and benefits." So I have trouble with the fact that it's out of the goodness of someone's heart. There's usually a good reason for things.
Having said all that, I would ask you just one simple question in whatever seconds I've got left. In your opinion, why do you think the government backed down on just about all the major aspects, except for pay equity and the employee wage protection plan? On all the major aspects, they seem to be running up the white flag. Why do you think they've done that, assuming it holds true in the amendments?
Ms Arab: I think they face pressure from the public on this. It's hard to continue with legislation that has faced widespread criticism, and it did face widespread criticism. It faced criticism and it still faces criticism from a whole host of groups and organizations and interests, from an editorial in the Globe and Mail to a resolution by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to vehement opposition by trade unions across the province, and numerous other cases.
There was opposition there and it became apparent the opposition was quite widespread and quite deep and the government listened to that. I still think there's more to listen to and there's more that needs to be done, more changes that need to be done. You should ask them.
Mr Christopherson: I'll be curious to see what history writes about it. That's why I'm interested in what people think now, because it is somewhat hard to figure out.
Ms Arab: I think it's the widespread opposition.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. That concludes this evening's committee. We stand recessed until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.
The committee adjourned at 2123.