Thursday 25 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
Association of Allied Health Professionals: Ontario
Ms Catherine Bowman
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, District 21
Mr John McEwen
Ottawa-Carleton CUPE District Council
Mr Steve Sanderson
County of Frontenac; New City of Kingston
Mr Terrence Whyte
Ms Donna Brown
Ms Lin Good
Citizens for Local Democracy
Mr John Sewell
Ms Carol Butler
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1189
Mr Bill White
Independent Contractors' Group
Mr Harry Pelissero
Mr Phil Besseling
Mr John Bridges
Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition
Ms Brenda Johnson
Ms Joanne Webb
Thunder Bay and District Labour Council
Ms Evelina Pan
Office and Professional Employees International Union, Mid-Canada Council
Mr Larry Kopechanski
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Lakehead area office
Mr Howard Matthews
Mr Barry Chezick
Ms Shirley Marino
Service Employees International Union, Local 268
Mr Glen Chochla
Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Region 7
Ms Pat Shearer
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)
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold ND)
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga 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 SECTORTRANSITION STABILITY ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 VISANT À ASSURER LA STABILITÉ AU COURS DE LA TRANSITION DANS LE SECTEUR PUBLIC
Consideration of 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.
ASSOCIATION OF ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: ONTARIO
The Vice-Chair (Mr Jerry J. Ouellette): Good morning. Could you identify yourself so Hansard knows who you are. You have 30 minutes for your presentation. At the end of your presentation, the time is divided equally between the three caucuses to ask questions. You may begin.
Ms Catherine Bowman: My name is Catherine Bowman and I'm the executive director of the Association of Allied Health Professionals: Ontario. AAHP:O is an independent union which represents only health professionals. It is the only union in the province that represents only health professionals, paramedicals. We were founded in 1975 and today we represent over 2,300 health professionals in 45 bargaining units across Ontario.
The vast majority of our members are covered by the Regulated Health Professions Act and as such they are registered by a college. Approximately three quarters of our members are employed by hospitals. The remaining one quarter are employed by community agencies such as public health units and community care access centres. Over 85% of our members are women.
Of the classifications that AAHP:O represents, the main ones are dietitians, medical laboratory technologists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, psychologists/psychometrists, respiratory therapists, social workers, speech-language pathologists and audiologists, and X-ray technologists.
With all due respect to the members of this committee, we believe that this consultation process is fundamentally flawed. The minister promised in June to hold full public hearings across the province, yet we are seeing only four days of hearings in Toronto. In addition, there is insufficient time allocated for the detailed clause-by-clause analysis of this very complicated bill which will have major implications on several hundred thousand broader public sector employees and several hundred employers.
Although we have had several months to study the bill as it was originally tabled, the government recently announced major amendments and has not made the details available to affected parties, such as ourselves. In fact it is our understanding that those amendments will not be made public until after the presentations to this committee are concluded. This makes it difficult for us to comment in a meaningful way on any of the specifics in the bill.
Notwithstanding this, we believe it is important to go on record with the concerns of AAHP:O members. As a result, this presentation will emphasize the following basic principles.
The independence and neutrality of the Ontario Labour Relations Board must be preserved and its jurisprudence and rules must be acknowledged and respected.
In the event of a conflict in bargaining rights following restructuring, employees must have the right to choose which union will represent them.
Historical bargaining unit structures must be preserved.
Employees who are denied the right to strike must have access to a fair and independent arbitration system to settle the terms of their collective agreement.
Public sector employees must not be made to pay for the restructuring of the broader public service.
Any new arbitration rules must not be applied retroactively.
First and foremost, we believe that Bill 136 is not necessary. As far as hospitals are concerned, passage of this bill will have the opposite effect of that intended by the government. It will lead to turmoil and disruption in the workplace instead of providing a smooth transition.
Health care restructuring, in both hospitals and community agencies, is an ongoing process and it will be continuing for quite some time. The OLRB has been dealing with labour relations issues arising from hospital mergers and amalgamations for several years, long before the Health Services Restructuring Commission began issuing its directives. AAHP:O has been directly involved in several of those cases, and the current system is working. Any complaints about delays can be attributed to the lack of resources provided to the OLRB through funding cuts of over 40% in the past year, not to problems with the legislation.
Recent OLRB decisions on hospital restructuring, along with the OLRB's long history of sale-of-business decisions, provide invaluable guidance to parties in a dispute. When the parties know in advance how the board has ruled in similar situations, there is less of a tendency to litigate and more willingness to negotiate. This is what expedites the resolution of issues. On the other hand, it takes time and costs money to test new legislation and to develop new case law. This is time and money that the health care system cannot afford.
The Minister of Labour has stated that the government's amendments will replace the LRTC with the OLRB because it recognizes that the OLRB "has a long and trusted history of independent and impartial adjudication." It is not acceptable for the government to transpose the rules of the proposed LRTC on to the OLRB. The board must be free to operate without any perception of political influence or bias. If the proposed rules for the LRTC are imposed, even for a limited period of time, it will effectively wipe out the board's existing jurisprudence, and that is what provides stability in the system now.
In order for the board to enjoy the confidence of both labour and management, it must be perceived to be fair and willing to take into account and balance both sides to a dispute. This means that representatives from both labour and management must continue to be appointed in equal numbers to the board. In addition, board appointments cannot be at the pleasure of the government, as that would unduly influence the ability of the board to issue impartial decisions.
The OLRB is in the process of developing and clarifying its jurisprudence regarding which collective agreement applies following a post-merger representation vote. It has also dealt with the seniority of non-union employees when the parties have been unable to agree. There is no need to make special provisions in the bill to deal with these issues.
Employees deserve the right to choose their union. Currently, health care workers continue to be represented by their current union and covered by their current collective agreement when their employer merges with another employer, until the labour board decides otherwise. If, as a result of this, there is a conflict between unions, ie, two unions which have bargaining rights for the same employees, there are already provisions in the Labour Relations Act for sorting this out. Normally a secret ballot vote is ordered and the affected employees get to choose which union will represent them.
The minister has promised that employees' choice of union representation will be determined by a democratic, secret ballot. In order for this promise to be fulfilled, there can be no percentage thresholds for unions to meet in order to get their name on the ballot.
When hospitals merge or community programs are transferred from one employer to the other, the government does not tell employers which lawyer or accounting firm to represent them following a merger. When electoral ridings are merged, the government does not tell constituents which MP or MPP will represent them. Likewise, the government should not be interfering with the rights of workers to choose their bargaining agent or union.
All unions are not alike. They come in different sizes, cover different jurisdictions, have different membership bases and are structured quite differently in terms of decision-making and representation. Unions also differ in terms of their politics and collective bargaining philosophy. All of these things are taken into account when employees decide which union they want to represent them.
The health professionals which AAHP:O represents tend to function quite independently in the workplace and have high levels of responsibility. They work in multidisciplinary teams and require flexibility in the performance of their job duties. It is important that health professionals are represented by a union which understands their special needs and interests. Their collective agreements need to reflect these different needs. This helps them provide high-quality health care to the public.
Any legislation that fetters the ability of the OLRB to rule according to sound labour relations practice must be avoided. This is especially true for the structure of bargaining units in hospitals.
There are very well established standard hospital bargaining units which reflect the community of interest among different groups of employees. These date back to the early 1970s. At that time, the Conservative government of the day established a special commission which issued the Report of the Hospital Inquiry Commission, or the Johnston report, in late 1974. The Johnston report confirmed several existing hospital bargaining units, such as nurses and service units, and recommended that all paramedical employees, or health care professionals, be included in a separate bargaining unit. That recommendation was acted upon by the labour board in 1976, following an extensive hearing into the nature of health care professionals' work and the application of established tests regarding community of interest.
Broad powers were to be given to the Labour Relations Transition Commission to determine the number, scope and composition of bargaining units. These should not be imposed on the labour board. Hospitals are not industrial plants and they should not be treated as such. Bigger is not better, and it is important that the bargaining structure reflect the very real differences between groups of employees.
The Minister of Labour has stated that the government's amendments will recognize the importance of continuing specialized bargaining units for professional staff. Although this statement was made to allegedly identify or raise concerns from nurses, the same concerns apply to paramedical employees, who have enjoyed the same status of a specialized bargaining unit.
Health care workers are entitled to fair and impartial arbitration. Right now there is tremendous fear and uncertainty in the health care sector. I cannot emphasize that enough. Workers are already struggling to cope with increased workloads brought on by staff cutbacks implemented in response to successive years of funding reductions. In addition, the rapid pace of restructuring, which is being imposed on hospitals by the Health Services Restructuring Commission and on public health units and community care access centres by government policy, has left everyone reeling. This is all having a negative impact on patient care.
What health care workers need to know is that at the end of the day, no matter who ultimately ends up being their employer, they will be treated fairly. They need to know that their rights will be protected and that they will not lose their union or be swept into another union or merged with another group of employees against their wishes or without their knowledge. Health care workers should not have to be constantly worrying about their jobs and should be allowed to concentrate on providing high quality patient care.
AAHP:O believes that the right to strike is essential to free collective bargaining, but the majority of our members work in hospitals. They have not had the right to strike for over 30 years. Instead, they are covered by the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act, or HLDAA, and they must rely on binding arbitration if there is an impasse in bargaining for a collective agreement.
The Minister of Labour has stated that the government's amendments will eliminate the DRC and will return to the current legislative provision governing the appointment of arbitrators. She does not say that she will remove the new legislative criteria that will fetter the independence of arbitrators and restrict their ability to make fair and neutral decisions.
Natural justice, fairness and due process are all critical components of an arbitration system that have not yet been acknowledged by this government. In returning to the current system of appointments under HLDAA and in making the promised provisions for expedited arbitration and the use of other forms of arbitration, these principles must be upheld.
In setting time lines in HLDAA, care must be taken to ensure that these are workable timelines that all the parties can meet. There are already time lines in HLDAA but they are seldom followed because they are unrealistically short and the enforcement mechanisms inappropriate. Issues arising from restructuring can be quite complex and it is important that boards of arbitration have an opportunity to properly deliberate over them. Rushed decisions to comply with arbitrary time lines can have serious consequences.
Health care workers are taxpayers too and they should not have to pay twice for the cost of restructuring the health care system. They already contribute through their taxes and should not be forced to contribute through rollbacks of their compensation and benefits. This clearly is the government's intention with the introduction of even more criteria for interest arbitrators to consider when resolving a dispute. Arbitrators have long found that the ability to pay in the public sector is really a desire to pay on the part of government and that employees should not have to subsidize the system through substandard or unfair wages. Any savings to be realized from restructuring the health care system need to be extracted from waste and inefficiencies, by eliminating duplication, not by making it easier for employers to gut collective agreements.
Bill 136 also contains provisions to remove or further weaken employers' obligations regarding pay equity. This is another blatant attack on existing employee rights. As a member of the Equal Pay Coalition, AAHP:O endorses the position taken by that organization.
Bill 136 seeks to amend Section 17 of HLDAA to terminate existing proceedings under that act in two cases: if no hearings were held before June 3; or if hearings were held and a final decision has not been issued by the time the act comes into force. Furthermore, the minister notified workplace parties in a letter dated July 15 that the government intends to introduce amendments to strengthen this provision.
The effect of this provision will be to require the parties to a dispute to start the process all over again from the beginning. This will be quite devastating in some situations, especially where the parties are waiting for a decision that has nothing to do with restructuring. As there is no longer going to be a DRC, there is no longer any need for this provision.
There are already unavoidable delays in the arbitration system. To require parties to start every arbitration process all over again from the beginning does not make any sense. It will also make it more difficult to sort out collective agreement provisions following a merger. This in turn will perpetuate the labour relations problems from which employers are seeking relief, ie, it will prolong different working conditions and terms of employment covering the same classification of employee.
There are many more concerns that we could list but I'll just reiterate the ones we have highlighted: Bill 136 is not necessary; OLRB integrity and jurisprudence must be maintained; employees deserve the right to choose their union; historical bargaining unit structures must be maintained; health care workers are entitled to fair and impartial arbitration; employees should not have to pay to restructure the system; there must be no retroactive application of arbitration changes.
These are not just the concerns of a union leader. These are concerns that have been expressed time and time again by our members across the province. As proof of this and to support this presentation, we are submitting petitions signed by hundreds of AAHP:O members which call for a repeal of Bill 136 because it is an unjustified affront to their basic democratic rights.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Good morning, Ms Bowman. Thank you for your presentation. At the outset, it's very clear and thoughtful. You've probably been working right up to even some of the presentations yesterday to be so up to date because many witnesses, it was apparent yesterday, were handicapped by not having some of the specifics of what the government wanted to do.
Yesterday many people did identify concerns, but I haven't heard anybody as specifically deal with the concern related to the transfer of the powers or provisions or criteria from the transition commission to the labour relations board. Frankly, that's our big concern as well, that it could be transferred lock, stock and barrel, and if it is, then it really wouldn't change very much. You've articulated that quite clearly.
You acknowledged that the provisions on time -- that there would be an acknowledgement of time. What was the other provision you mentioned? That obviously people had to get on with respecting some of the time lines because the restructuring will take effect in most instances by January 1, not necessarily in your sector in every case.
Ms Bowman: There is no finite date that we have to work to with respect to restructuring.
Mr Patten: That's true. In terms of municipalities, of course, there is, because of elections and because of a January 1 deadline. I'm trying to find in here the two areas that you mentioned. You mentioned in relation to your own area that there already was a special bargaining unit in place. You want to see that maintained.
Ms Bowman: That's correct.
Mr Patten: Would you see that one as fulfilling the complete job? My worry is that they might put another special bargaining unit in place that would handle other areas, or maybe a series that would deal with different sectors.
Ms Bowman: As I indicated, there have been over 20 years of history with the labour board with respect to the structure of hospital bargaining units and they are fairly well defined. Where there are anomalies it's because of organizing that took place prior to precedent-setting cases by the labour relations board.
Our concern would be if there was a tendency to move to all-employee bargaining units or to group together employees that have traditionally bargained separately, because their needs are quite different.
Mr Patten: You were saying that sometimes these negotiations or arbitrations drag out for a long time.
Ms Bowman: Yes, they can. Would you like a specific example?
Mr Patten: Yes, please.
Ms Bowman: This is a restructuring example and gives you an example of the complexity of the situation with which the board is dealing. A decision has already been issued on this by the labour board.
We were certified to represent a group of employees at one site of a newly merged hospital in November 1995. In April 1996, at the other site for that hospital, that hospital became a successor employer for another group of paramedical employees that had been previously represented by our association at another hospital. We now had two separate bargaining units in this single hospital, two sites. One had a collective agreement; the other one was negotiating for a first collective agreement.
There were concerns raised by the employer with respect to intermingling of employees, so an application was made to the labour relations board to try and deal with this issue. The board did deal with that issue and ordered a vote. In May 1997 we won that vote to represent the paramedical employees at both sites of that hospital. In winning that vote, we assumed the bargaining rights for employees who had previously been negotiating a first collective agreement with another union, as well as employees who were covered by a previous collective agreement for another union. So we now have a single bargaining unit which is encompassing theoretically four different types of employees.
We have an arbitration date scheduled for November 1997. Our concern is that if there are provisions in this legislation that will remove that November 1997 date, it will then set the parties back several months in terms of having to reschedule and appear before an arbitration to deal with the problems that are facing us, very real problems from a labour relations point of view.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Thank you very much, Ms Bowman, for your presentation. I noticed on page 3, item 5, you state, "Public sector employees must not be made to pay for the restructuring of the broader public service." And further, at the bottom of page 8 and top of page 9, you state: "Any savings to be realized from restructuring the health care system need to be extracted from waste and inefficiencies, not by making it easier for employers to gut collective agreements."
Can you just expand on that? Obviously I'm interpreting this to mean that you believe the purpose of 136 was to do exactly what you're saying should not be happening.
Ms Bowman: That is our belief, yes. We believe that Bill 136 is all about money and power. The concern we have is that the legislative criteria and the fettering of the independence and impartial decision-making powers of interest arbitrators will allow employers to appear before arbitrators and argue it is in the best interests of the public, because this is all the money the government is willing to provide us, to roll back the wages and benefits of our employees, in effect saying we've been overpaying them all these years. In the last few years, in terms of bargaining, those kinds of rollbacks have been finding their way to the bargaining table. We do not believe it is appropriate to pay workers in the system unfairly because the government is unwilling to properly fund the system.
Mr Christopherson: I would add that if one takes a look at the whole litany of labour legislation that this government has enacted, everything is about either watering down the strength of unions that represent workers or, as in the case of the Employment Standards Act, removing their rights directly.
The government constantly points to the fact that they're not trying to do what you just said. All they're trying to do is to make things better for patients, somehow suggesting that patients aren't workers and that workers can be labelled "special interests," that patients and taxpayers are somehow a separate group of society that they're defending in the face of all you special interests.
On page 7 you talk about what has already left your community reeling, as you say. You state that this is having a negative impact on patient care when you talk about the funding cuts and the rush with the Health Services Restructuring Commission. What's happening, in your opinion, right now to patient care as a result of the actions the government has taken, notwithstanding all these problems and fearmongering that they propagate is going to happen if they don't step in with 136?
Ms Bowman: It's our opinion that patient care is deteriorating. I think you just have to talk to people who are having to utilize services. Despite the best intentions on the part of workers in the system, who are working as hard as they can, there is no question that the fear and uncertainty are undermining their ability to do their work.
Mr Christopherson: Everybody who has come forward representing workers has consistently pushed the message that all they want is fairness. They want impartiality, they want neutrality, they want -- you've used the word "unfettered" decision-making. Are you seeking any kind of special consideration in labour legislation? Are you suggesting there is some kind of imbalance that needs to be corrected by virtue of you having special rights, or are you, like others, suggesting that all you want is natural justice and fairness?
Ms Bowman: We do not believe that any special legislation is required because the labour relations board is constantly evolving its jurisprudence and has already been working. The difficulty we have is that we see that the labour board is already under the political influence of this government. That is a concern we have. We would like to see a return to a free and open appointment process, and we think that will go a long way to restoring confidence in the labour board.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. The Ministry of Labour has had a lot of discussions in the last few days with different groups. I wondered if your group had had an opportunity to be briefed and have a discussion with the Ministry of Labour.
Ms Bowman: No, the Ministry of Labour has not seen fit to meet with our organization. We are not affiliated with the Ontario Federation of Labour, and it is my understanding, notwithstanding the fact that the government is saying it is negotiating with that organization, that it is only providing them with some technical briefings. We have had access to the minister's statement in the House and take on face value the promises she says, that she is granting unions everything they are asking for. With all due respect, I want to see the writing on that.
Mr Maves: Have you made the request to the Ministry of Labour to have a briefing?
Ms Bowman: We made requests when this legislation was first tabled.
Mr Maves: But since then?
Ms Bowman: Since then, no; a specific request to meet with the minister, no. We were led to believe in June, when the minister said there would be full public consultations, that that was the process where we would provide input.
Mr Maves: I suggest that you might make that request. You might be able to get a briefing.
Ms Bowman: Are you saying that the Minister of Labour would agree to meet with us just because we asked?
Mr Maves: No, the Ministry of Labour is having briefings. It's not necessarily the minister who is conducting those briefings right now. I would suggest, if you are interested, that you make the request to the Ministry of Labour and see if they can't brief your organization.
Ms Bowman: Again, I think the briefings are not what we're looking for. We're looking for the detailed language of the amendments.
Mr Maves: The reason I say that is because in your brief, when you talk about historical bargaining units being structured, being preserved, you are right to say that the LRTA talks about the rationalization of units. You have also gone on to say in your brief that the minister has said that "specialized bargaining units for professional staff" will be dealt with. In your brief you say that's got to do with nurses. My only comment is that the comment obviously extends to groups like your own and you should try to make that point clear in every possible way besides just submitting the brief. That's the only reason I'm advising that.
The other thing is, the OLRB jurisprudence and rules will be acknowledged and respected. They will also, as you have said, have some new provisions under the LRTA which guide them; for instance, the request that they look at rationalization of bargaining units where possible -- that's tempered by the minister's statements, as you've already mentioned -- and new rules around seniority for non-union employees. I don't imagine you would have a problem with those in particular. I don't think many people in the labour movement have had --
Ms Bowman: Have had problems with granting seniority rights to non-union employees?
Mr Maves: Right, if there are mergers.
Ms Bowman: I think there is a difficulty with putting into the legislation how to deal with seniority issues. Our preference would be to restore the ability of the labour relations board, as was done in Bill 40 and removed in Bill 7, to deal with this issue. We have been a party to agreements dealing with the issue of seniority of non-union employees, and in some places they got it and in some places they didn't. It depended on the circumstances. At the end of the day, if the parties can't agree, I think it should go to the labour relations board to deal with the issue in terms of what makes sense from a labour relations perspective.
Mr Maves: I've had several indications of agreements that couldn't be met. One was 11 years or something like that from the OHA in one instance on seniority issues. So in our opinion there needs to be some sort of direction on that.
On another page, you talk about no percentage thresholds for unions to meet in order to get their name on the ballot. Right now the LRTA says that if all agents don't agree on the new bargaining units and the new bargaining agents, then there will be a vote. Do you not feel protected by that? The minister has said the thresholds are going to be removed, with the exception of the 40%, and now it will be that all bargaining agents must agree on new agents. If not, it goes to a vote.
Ms Bowman: I'll give you an example of our unease. If you've read the directives of the restructuring commission with respect to Toronto, for instance, you will know that for some hospitals they are basically taking programs and splitting them among four or five different hospitals in terms of rationalization of services. If those employees are currently represented by a bargaining agent and they are then transferred, say, in twos and threes or even as individual employees to another hospital where the same kinds of employees are represented by another bargaining agent, it may not make sense to force a vote in that situation. It would make sense if there were a disparity of numbers, but if you're looking at two or three people and a group of 100 or 200 people, to have in the legislation a requirement that in every instance when there is a transfer there will be a vote -- that's why we would prefer to defer to the judgement of the labour board, which has dealt with those kinds of situations in the past.
The Vice-Chair: That ends your presentation time. Thank you very much for your presentation.
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 21
The Vice-Chair: For the next presenter we will now be moving to Ottawa. Good morning, Ottawa.
Mr John McEwen: Good morning, Mr Ouellette and members of the committee. My name is John McEwen. I am past president of District 21, OSSTF. I appear on behalf of Greg McGillis, the district president.
District 21 consists of approximately 350 members who work for the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry public school board. On January 1, 1998, we will become employees of the Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, Prescott and Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry English Language Public District School Board. The OSSTF members employed by this new board include teachers, occasional teachers, education assistants, psychologists and many others. These individuals are justifiably concerned about the creation of this rather unwieldy school board entity and equally concerned about the application of this proposed legislation on their jobs, their union membership and their collective rights. A majority of the people we represent, of course, are affected by Bill 160, and that is a concern for another venue.
District 21 would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to comment about Bill 136. We would, however, like to place on the record the following:
Twenty-three hours ago, we were informed of this opportunity. We were told that the date and time, 10:30 am, were fixed; take it or leave it. Twenty hours ago we were told that the time would be moved up to 10 o'clock. Again it was non-negotiable. I note that the time is 20 minutes before the hour.
On September 18, 1997, the Minister of Labour issued a statement which promised substantial revision to Bill 136. As this is being written, some 12 hours before the presentation, the promised amendments have not been made available to us. The minister, I am told, now says next week. Thus, we have been asked on indecently short notice to make observations on a piece of legislation which, from the minister's statement, is substantially different from the printed version. One might well wonder as to the purpose served by appearing today under these conditions. Nevertheless, the legislation will have a significant impact on our members, and on their behalf we gladly take this opportunity to speak despite what I consider to be the odious circumstances.
Bill 136, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act: This legislation in its printed form was repugnant to our members and would be resisted.
The Toronto Star editorial of June 5, 1996, provided a dead-accurate assessment of that legislation: "The Public Sector Transition Stability Act is part of a worrisome trend of beating up on public servants, of making them scapegoats for governments that have difficulty meeting their commitments." The editorialist concluded by appealing to the public to resist both this trend and Bill 136.
The Star also stated, "We should all demand that the people who provide valuable public services enjoy the same rights to bargain decent working conditions as everyone else." We expect that the government will respect the fundamental democratic rights of union employees in our school board during the transition process in any applicable legislation.
The minister's statement about the included amendments seemed appropriate to that end. Her statement included the following assurances: the removal of the proposed restrictions on the right to strike; upon restructuring, free collective bargaining would apply for a first collective agreement, and the first-contract provisions of the Labour Relations Act would also apply; reference to the Dispute Resolution Commission would be eliminated; a return to the current legislative provisions governing the appointment of arbitrators would occur; using the Ontario Labour Relations Board to perform the functions and responsibilities of the proposed labour relations commission instead of what Bill 136 originally would have done; using expedited arbitration and other forms of arbitration under the current arbitration system; and finally, she gave assurance that following restructuring, employees' choice of union representation would be determined by a democratic secret ballet. We support those principles. We hope they will be implemented in the amendments to be tabled next week.
I'd like now to take a moment and make some observations about each of those principles, first of all the removal of the proposed restrictions on the right to strike: The removal of the right to strike as provided for in Bill 136 would almost guarantee, the way Bill 136 was structured, that employers would apply to the Dispute Resolution Commission for relief in settling unresolved issues. In fact, the very opportunity to apply would ensure that the employers would not even bargain seriously. I might add, if I were an employer, why on earth would I, since the rules of that commission seem to be stacked totally in favour of the employer?
Public sector employees have in the past bargained in good faith with their employers under very difficult circumstances. We are confident that we will continue to bargain in good faith with our employers to reach a mutually acceptable collective agreement. The provisions of Bill 136 are simply unnecessary in order to assure that.
Free collective bargaining and first-contact arbitration: We are pleased to recognize that the government has seen the importance of free collective bargaining as the process to be used by the parties in achieving the first contracts under the Public Sector Transition Stability Act. As noted previously by others, there is in our minds no justification for removing the right to strike or lockout and referring the disputes to a new government-appointed, inexperienced, employer-biased Dispute Resolution Commission which would only duplicate processes already found in the LRA.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board, responsible for administering the Labour Relations Act, is the quasi-judicial body most suitable for dealing with labour relations matters arising out of the restructuring of school boards, hospitals and municipalities, and those matters should be left to it to deal with. We would suggest that the government consult the board in order to determine if certain time-definite modifications to the Labour Relations Act or board procedures are necessary to assist it in that task.
The Dispute Resolution Commission and the arbitration of disputes: We are glad to see that the references to this have been deleted. The creation of this commission is totally unnecessary. Currently, under various pieces of legislation applicable to Ontario public sector workers, provisions exist for resolving collective bargaining disputes using independent, tripartite arbitration boards. This system has worked successfully for decades.
The Labour Relations Transition Commission and the Ontario Labour Relations Board: The OSSTF, District 21, cannot understand why there would be the need to create a body parallel to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to handle these issues. We would presume that the board presently enjoys the confidence of the government, and if that is so, why would it act in this fashion? Is there some special agenda that the government believes can be best put in place by using a commission of government appointees to do the job, or again is it a matter of expediency?
As I said, we support the principles that the minister enunciated and we hope they are implemented in the amendments to be tabled next week.
I would like to move now to my concluding comments.
District 21 recognizes that the government, having initiated this restructuring process, would want to ensure a transition process which would proceed as smoothly as possible. However, we in Ontario are heirs to the fruits of hundreds of years of struggle against unjust and arbitrary action. A process which violates the democratic rights of Ontario public sector employees will not achieve the government's end.
We support the view stated earlier by others who have appeared before this committee that the suggestions proposed by the Ontario Federation of Labour, suggestions the government appears to have adopted, are reasonable alternatives to the repugnant processes outlined in Bill 136 in its original form. Like others who have appeared before you earlier, we hope the government will now meet with the representatives of organized labour to discuss how these suggestions may be applied so that the restructuring of school boards, municipalities and hospitals can proceed.
We therefore recommend that the committee give its support to the recommendations to Bill 136 which are true to the principles outlined by the minister in her statement September 18, 1997. I thank you for this opportunity to appear and I am most willing to take any questions you might offer.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. I appreciate it. I want to first of all talk about process. You used terms like "indecently short notice," "odious circumstances," "repugnant process." Those are very strong words. As someone in the teaching profession, obviously you understand the impact of using words like that. I gather that you didn't use them lightly.
Mr McEwen: Sir, I have testified before numerous federal and provincial committees of legislative assemblies over the past 20 years. I have also appeared before numerous boards of commissions. Never in my experience as a witness before a parliamentary committee have I been exposed to this kind of process. We had a very long debate as to whether I should appear. It seemed that the barriers to being heard were almost insurmountable.
I am a full-time teacher. I finished my marking last night at 10 o' clock. I began to write this at 10 o'clock. I got up at 6 o'clock this morning to print it out. To say the least, my brief was extremely hastily prepared. Ordinarily I would expect to have an opportunity to consult with those for whom I speak. I could not even reach my district president because my district president had been called away to Toronto.
I hope I have satisfactorily conveyed the feelings of my members. They are extremely frustrated right now, and those who know of the process I've been put to, including being told that this was on the fifth floor of this building when in fact the meeting is on the 7th floor of this building. Taking all those things together I feel that yes, the word "odious" is quite correct.
Mr Christopherson: You said you had to debate whether or not you'd appear and participate. Mr Patten on behalf of the Liberals and myself on behalf of the NDP did everything we could to try and fix as much as we could this kind of process. I've been in this place seven years, both in government and in opposition, and I've never experienced anything like it. It's outrageous, it's insulting. The government believes, I think, that they can ram this through and that there won't be enough people upset. I can only hope that given all the people who were submitted to these kinds of tactics, word gets out that the arguments from the opposition that this is an undemocratic government are true. We're experiencing this teleconferencing for the first time. This was done, in my opinion, just to cover off the fact that they are so embarrassed by their legislation, and they've been beat up so bad when they have taken other legislation out on the road, it's easier to do this on a television screen.
Mr Christopherson: Do you mind letting me finish, Mr Newman?
You can see how upset they are when you call them on the truth. You probably couldn't see it because you're not here, but I'm getting heckled now by the majority government members on the other side. They don't like the fact that they're being called to task. They are afraid, they're cowards and they won't go out in the communities and meet with people. They'd rather have you nice and far away on a TV screen where they can control as much as possible what you see and what you don't see. It's disgusting and it's disgraceful. I wish there were something we could do about it, but they have a majority.
I want to come back to the issue you raised about wanting fairness and neutrality, words that have been used by everybody who has come forward in terms of what they're seeking in this legislation. Clearly Bill 136 didn't do that. We just had a health care professional who suggested very clearly that they thought the purpose of Bill 136 was ultimately to extract money from workers through their collective agreement. Do you agree with that?
Mr McEwen: I have seen, on three separate occasions now over the last two years, a statement made under the authority of either the treasurer or the Minister of Education that Ontario spends $1 billion more than it should. On each of those occasions I, as a member of the American Education Finance Association and its international director, have tracked those down and found them to be false. Nevertheless it appears that the $1-billion demand is still there, and yes, I think that is the motive of this government; that and its desire for control.
It talked during the election about the need to get government out of the face of the people of Ontario. In fact, this is the most controlling government we have ever had. It's a government that is slowly dismantling the mechanisms of local democratic government. The municipal councillors and school board trustees will be more responsible to their respective minister than they will be to the electorate whose taxes they will be forced to raise on the demand of the government of Ontario. It is those two things, control and cost-cutting; they want to control the public sector employees in the same way that they want to cut off the ability of the local ratepayer and the parent and the consumer of local services to have a meaningful say in the operation of their government. Yes, that is the motive of this government, I am convinced.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for submission. Did you get a chance to hear the minister's remarks the other day?
The Vice-Chair: Thank you, Mr Christopherson. We now move to the government side.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Thank you very much, sir, for joining us this morning through teleconferencing. Contrary to your own assertion and Mr Christopherson's that this is the first time we've used teleconferencing in this situation, it was used last winter through the Legislative Assembly committee on referenda. That's a reality. I don't know whether Mr Christopherson was there or not; I believe he was. That's point one, sir.
Second, I'd like to ask you how much time you had in terms of consultation on the social contract when it was imposed on you back in 1992-93 by the previous regime. Did you have extensive consultations through a standing committee or through letter-writing or other means, and what was the outcome of those particular decisions from your perspective?
Third, there is a point in your brief, which I believe is very well written -- it's succinct. We get a lot of them that go 20, 30 pages and they could have made the same specific recommendations in about three or four as you have done here and that's much appreciated, sir. My point on this particular thing is about the eighth formatted point on your second page, dealing with, "Following restructuring, employees' choice of union representation be determined by a democratic secret" vote. We have had previous presenters at the standing committee, particularly CUPE Ontario and CUPE national, who suggested that union votes that were not by specific members of a given union were not really necessary on interjurisdictional reunification of unions coming together in a restructuring enterprise and that the OLRB could very well undertake the determination as to which members should belong to which unions.
My point on that is, I'd like to know whether District 21 of OSSTF disagrees, then, with CUPE national or CUPE Ontario that the OLRB determine who should be eligible for union membership in which union local, unlike your basic principle, which says that a democratic secret ballot ought to be held by the folks who are directly involved. I'd be very interested in knowing whether you agree with that particular thrust or with the principle you have set out in your own paper which says, "Let's have a democratic secret ballot," and is a cross-contradiction to the previous deputants of CUPE Ontario and CUPE national.
Mr McEwen: First of all, I'd like to thank you for your kind words. I will answer the questions in the order that I remember them, if I may.
First to the question of the behaviour of the government when it was controlled by what is now the third party: The members of that party who know me well know that at that time I was at least as critical of their behaviour as I am of the behaviour of this government now, for much the same reasons. You either believe in parliamentary democracy where the rights of all individuals are respected or you don't. If you don't do that, if you transgress against those principles, then you can expect to hear from me. I will not discriminate in that anger and that criticism. That's point number one.
Was I adequately consulted? Were my views heard? I don't think so. Does that justify the lack of consultation now? I don't think so.
Now to the second question, and if I've missed one, please remind me because I thought I only heard two: We were founded as a union in 1919 by people who returned from the First World War defending their country and defending democratic principles.
We organized ourselves because we felt we needed justice and dignity in the workplace. We have stood ever since then where our strength is the strength of commitment of our members. We are not afraid to ask people to decide whether they wish to belong to the OSSTF. We work in close collaboration with members of CUPE. I have great respect for the leadership of CUPE. I have received their strong support on many occasions. I expect to do so in the future and I expect to deliver that support in kind when the time is necessary. Nevertheless, it is the position of District 21 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation that the best way to settle the matter is to let the members decide, because that after all is the basis behind the democratic union movement we have in this province.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Good morning, Mr McEwen. We share your frustration with the process and spent a great deal of time earlier this week on just what is happening for you today and others who have tried to gather enough information to make a credible presentation before the committee.
You've done a very good job with what information you've been given. Ministerial statements are the bulk of what we know today, and other pronouncements by the minister through the press. But clearly we would all love to see the amendments. With your experience, and I've gained through some of your comments that you have a vast amount of experience, you would know that amendments are very important because individual words can mean so very much in the context of a legal definition to amendments. We share your frustration and we see this as somewhat of a sham in the fact that we don't have the written word in a legal context as to what the minister has pronounced. I want to commend you on your dedication to the people you represent and others who would be affected by this bill, Bill 136.
The first striking point within your presentation was the name of the new board that will be in your area. It's quite obvious that geographically it appears it'll be a very huge board in terms of geography. In my area, trustees and those who might put their names forward to be trustees are sorely lacking. The area of representation is too large, in their view. They feel that two hours' driving time just to attend a meeting is onerous on them, that their role will be greatly diminished, and probably to a lesser extent that their remuneration is going to be greatly reduced. Some people have lost income to be trustees in the past, and I'm talking about a rural area where trustees were not paid huge amounts of money in the first place.
I commend you on your presentation in view of the fact that things were put together rather hastily for you and that you don't have a lot to work with except what the minister has stated, and we don't have the written document to go with that.
Mr Patten would also like to speak.
Mr Patten: Good morning, John.
Mr McEwen: Good morning, Richard.
Mr Patten: I sympathize with having to use now for your new district school board council such a lengthy title, but I appreciate your having taken the time to make a presentation here. I must say I agree with every point you have made. I'm just reviewing the minister's remarks. I don't know if you had a chance to hear her remarks to the committee yesterday
Mr McEwen: I was teaching.
Mr Patten: Or the day before, rather.
Mr McEwen: I was doing that then too.
Mr Patten: The reason I bring this up, John, is because in your point-form under the minister's statement, it said "Reference to the Dispute Resolution Commission would be eliminated." What I'm beginning to discover now after all the representations and witnesses we've heard from is that can be read as simply the doing away with the Dispute Resolution Commission or the transition commission doesn't mean all that much, because she goes on in her speech to say that all of the authority and the criteria that were with both those commissions will be transferred to new bodies and therefore they will have to behave as those other two commissions would have behaved. Is that the way you read it as well?
Mr McEwen: Frankly, I read the bullets as you see them. I was concerned, for obvious reasons, that the clauses were not put before the committee prior to my presentation. The devil, as my father used to say, is in the details. I guess you can do whatever the devil you want with the details, and that's what you appear to be saying.
I'd also like to thank you and your colleague for your kind words. The committee ought to know that you can fit in Rhode Island, Delaware, the seven smallest European countries and still have almost enough room left over for Luxembourg. I drove to a meeting on the other side of the new board last weekend. It took me two and a half hours. It is a most unwieldy thing.
Frankly, I think that's part of the plan. As I remarked earlier, the objective is control: We have a corporate model; we have a head office, that's Queen's Park; you have the regional offices, those are the school boards; you have the site offices, those are the schools; and the instructions will flow from the head office to the regional office to the schools and any semblance of local control will be merely window dressing.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation.
Mr Maves: Chair, can I request a five-minute recess?
The Vice-Chair: Yes.
Mr Patten: Mr McEwen, if it's possible to have your document on those figures, I'd really appreciate it, the document showing the breakdown of the billion dollars.
The Vice-Chair: The committee calls for a five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 1007 to 1016.
The Vice-Chair: I call the committee back to session. Good morning again, Ottawa. Just to explain what has taken place here, there was a call for members to be in the House, at which time the committee recessed to have its members in attendance in the Legislature.
OTTAWA-CARLETON CUPE DISTRICT COUNCIL
Mr Steve Sanderson: My name is Steve Sanderson and I'm the president of the Ottawa-Carleton CUPE District Council. I want to start by reiterating a couple of the points Mr McEwen made at the beginning of his presentation with respect to the length of time that was accorded both himself and myself, and I presume others, to prepare for this extremely important committee deliberation.
I found out about this yesterday afternoon and of course I'm a working person. I had to complete my daily activities at work prior to having an opportunity to speak to others about this, to put together my notes etc. That disappoints me considerably in light of the fact this is an extremely important change that is being proposed by the government with respect to its impact on all working people in this province.
What I want to do is give you an overview indicating that I will first talk about concerns with this process, that I will then attempt to bring forward the concerns I bear as president of the CUPE district council in Ottawa-Carleton, and then finally I will propose to you some of the changes we in CUPE and myself as president of the CUPE district council feel should be brought forward with respect to this bill.
I laboured about this last night and I guess what I came up with is an example for you to contemplate when you continue with these deliberations and attempt to take into consideration things that have been said by the people who are appearing before the committee. The example I came up with is one of the theatre of the absurd where you would question me on my presentation prior to my actual delivery of that presentation. I believe that in effect mirrors what is presently happening with the work of this committee in that the changes to the legislation are not before us as we attempt to bring our concerns about the bill and the changes to you as a committee. There are many, many questions that are still unresolved. For example, how can we know that the proposed changes will create a fair and unfettered system of interest arbitration where government-imposed criteria are removed? Presently this system is clearly skewed. This new process that is being proposed under the bill is clearly skewed against working people. Will the final offer selection process be removed from the bill?
Final offer selection is a primitive and completely unfair manner of dealing with labour relations. Rancour, anger and frustration are the results of this process. In effect, the process of free collective bargaining is ruined as a result of it. Will the mediation-arbitration be removed? This process has as its basic principle the idea that the give and take that occurs during the process of negotiations would not occur and would not be able to proceed.
Why would anyone entertain utilizing the negotiations process as it is intended? Again, an important aspect of free collective bargaining is rendered useless. In other words, the ability of the parties to resolve their own affairs is lost. That seemed to be something this government was proposing this bill would allow to continue.
Under this bill, if interest arbitration awards are not rendered before the bill is brought down, then the parties will have to go through the whole process again. How can this be seen as a streamlining process? How will this save the employers, the unions and the public time and money? How can appointed commissioners -- appointed by this government under the bill -- how can that process of proposing these commissioners come forward be seen as unbiased, impartial and fair in comparison to the general high esteem that is accorded to the present list of arbitrators that are freely chosen by the parties?
This bill gives the power to cabinet to decide what restructuring is and what it means. If cabinet can unilaterally decide what this means without returning to the Legislature to propose and debate this issue, then how many other "restructuring processes" will fall under this broad umbrella? Social services, supposedly not covered presently by this bill, come to mind. I can only speak to Ottawa-Carleton, but there is a process of restructuring going on as we speak. Will this process fall under the bill as it is described presently? Would it not make sense that the process would return to the Legislature for a full debate on that issue?
What will happen with the positive movement towards fully implementing pay equity with the proposed changes under this bill? What will happen during an amalgamation under the concept of a composite collective agreement during the transition period? If all collective agreements apply, or parts of all apply, then how will this in any way help the transition process? These are some of the questions that I believe are still unresolved and need a resolution as quickly as possible.
I would like to give you a little bit of an overview of what responsibilities I have as president of the CUPE District Council and what activities we are involved in. I would like to tell you too that I have been working in social services for the last 25 years. Over the last 14 years, I have been employed by an Association For Community Living delivering services to developmentally handicapped people in this province in an effort to allow them to become full citizens in the activities that we are all hopefully able to participate in.
As president of the council, I represent approximately 5,000 workers in this area -- social services, health care facilities, universities, public utilities, municipalities, school boards and others. The members of the council are active in this community through membership in social, religious, academic, benevolent and municipal groups, clubs and associations. Members of the council take pride in their community and participate in the process of enriching this community through their work and their actions.
When this community and its citizens are attacked, we feel it is our responsibility to come to its defence, both as workers and as citizens. The council, through its ongoing dialogue with and participation in this community, has no hesitation to state most unequivocally that it feels that a massive attack has been unleashed on the community, its services, its people, its institutions and its general wellbeing. Never in the history of this province has such a blatant disregard been displayed by an elected government to the people it has pledged to serve and to protect.
With this in mind the council, along with numerous other partners both in and out of the labour movement, have taken up the challenge of fighting for the respect and dignity of all the working people and citizens of this region. Bill 136 has galvanized our resolve and our spirit to rid the people of this province of the odious and repugnant method that this government has chosen to deal with the millions of men and women who toil day in and day out across this province.
All the working people of Ontario deserve better treatment than has been accorded them by this government through this bill. If Bill 26 was called "the bully bill," then Bill 136 would have to be called "the butcher bill" because it butchers long-standing practices of labour relations created in a sensible and practical fashion by thoughtful, serious and fair-minded legislators, boards of arbitration and educators. It butchers the sense of fairness, impartiality and independence that was the cornerstone of the arbitration system. Finally, it butchers the last vestiges of the idea of this government being free of biased and partisan behaviour against its citizenry.
As a result of the government's decision to bring forth Bill 136, the labour movement has been organizing like it has never done before. I can assure you that I have never in my life participated in more meetings with more members among more different unions than I have in the last four months. Although we have differences, our purpose is unified and strong.
Having said this, I would like to state that I have never accepted the Conservative government's oxymoron "Common Sense Revolution," but I will say that in the last week the government has shown some good sense by indicating it is prepared to change, to modify, to alter this bill. I hasten to add that if fairness was added to this equation, then we would have the proposed changes in writing before us today so that the true essence of the concept of hearings would in effect be the undertaking of this committee.
This bill hides behind terms that are intended to mislead the public while satisfying the intentions of the friends of this government; for example, "best practices." To the public, this term means doing the best things, the right thing, the fair thing. To the government, the term means finding the lowest wages, cutting away benefits, creating part-time employment and privatizing services.
Then we can take the "public interest test." To the citizenry, this means listening to them. It means consulting them. It means respecting them. To the government, this means taking away the right to strike.
If you combine these terms and actually identify what they are intended to mean, you come up with the following example. The law will allow the government and its agents to force the working people of this province -- the people who build the roads, care for the sick and the elderly, educate the children, take care of the disabled, operate the libraries, pick up our garbage, maintain our public pools and arenas -- to have their wages cut, to strip away their benefits and remove their working conditions, and not allow them the chance to freely defend themselves against this. What kind of government would do this to its citizenry?
We know that this government has said it will not be swayed by special interest groups. Surely, when it passes legislation that impacts directly on over 500,000 of its citizens and then on the millions who are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, it cannot call those strong protestations those of special interest groups. It has to listen to these voices if it is in any way ethically bound to its role as governing body in a democracy.
On the substance of the bill itself, I therefore request that you consider the following changes:
That the idea of the public interest test be removed from the bill;
That the LRTC and the DRC be removed from the legislation and that the OLRB be allowed to deal with the issues of restructuring;
That the government cease any form of interference in matters pertaining to the OLRB or the appointment of vice-chairs;
That we return to the consensual appointment of vice-chairs to the OLRB;
That there be no limitations on the right to strike;
That the collective agreement of a winning bargaining agent apply to all employees in the new bargaining unit;
That binding arbitration continue with the fair, independent and impartial nature it has had to date and that the government remove any parts of the bill which would allow it to intervene or interfere in this process;
That this same fair, independent and impartial process be applied to the selection of arbitrators that go on the list of arbitrators or rosters;
That any part of the law that interferes with or diminishes the capability of the fair and reasonable implementation of pay equity be removed;
That the government renew its stated commitment to hold hearings throughout the province with the changes to the legislation in place so that a free and open dialogue on the full substance of the bill can occur.
Finally, I want to read to you a brief comment on the issue of re-engineering and restructuring that we've all heard over and over again in this province. Many of us are concerned about what that means. I guess the comment I want to read is a frightening comment because it's a comment that was not made yesterday. I would like to read it to you. It goes like this:
"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization." That statement was made by Petronius Arbiter in 66 AD in Rome. I just wonder how far we've come, because we can still make those same statements today. Thank you very much.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): Thank you very much, Mr Sanderson, for making your presentation. I'd like to first of all commend you on your involvement with the Association for Community Living. I have been involved in my riding of St Catharines-Brock, as it's called -- it's all of Niagara-on-the-Lake and half of St Catharines -- with that association in my area. I believe strongly, as you do, in helping people with disabilities to integrate and live in the community as much as they can.
I've met with a lot of CUPE locals in my area and we've discussed a lot of things. Obviously in some of your comments there is a ray of hope that you may down the road agree with some of the stuff we're doing, but as you said, you probably would never be able to live with the Common Sense Revolution or the party platform.
That being said, I've met with a lot of CUPE locals in my area and when we've looked at amalgamations we've discussed three areas, and Bill 136 talks about it as well. We talked about the best possible service for the best possible price for the best deal for the taxpayers.
In my discussions with them I asked the question: When you look at amalgamation, or when you look at whatever with respect to the whole area of amalgamation, can your group prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can provide those three areas: the best possible service for the best possible price for the best deal for the taxpayers? If you can, there should be no fear in negotiating that first contract. I would like your comments on that, please.
Mr Sanderson: Sure. Actually, that's a very good point to bring up because in the Ottawa-Carlton area we had a group called the Ottawa-Carlton Network for Persons with Developmental Disabilities that was set up to represent the 22 different agencies in our area here. Out of that, a smaller group of executive directors, presidents of boards, members of the associations and some of the individuals who receive the services, along with two representatives from labour, comprised that body.
My sadness is that over the last year and a half the labour representatives on that body have not been asked to any of the meetings. Although the area office manager for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, Pierre Lalonde, when they were coming down with the new proposed changes, Making Services Work for People, stated that unions were a part of the process, we are not a part of the process, and that is something we are offended by.
The other thing I would like to say -- and I don't disagree with you that certain changes can be positive -- is that we experienced an extraordinary winter here in Ottawa-Carleton, with two of the community associations in a sense working with people with developmental disabilities having been locked out of their workplaces for a good part of the winter. I don't want to go into too much detail here because it's not appropriate, it's not timely, but that didn't do anything for the services or the quality of life of those individuals. In effect, it was just basically running for the bottom. The jobs that were offered to people were in the $8 range. The clients were put in a precarious position; the families were put in a precarious position.
That was allowed because the scab legislation came in and people were allowed to take our jobs -- and no bargaining happened. Of the two agencies that are in question, one had one bargaining meeting, the other had two, and then the lockouts occurred.
I don't disagree with you that change is something that can happen and good things can come out of it, but I'm very concerned about this legislation and of course the legislation that preceded it which allowed those things to happen to developmentally handicapped individuals in our province.
Mr Patten: Good morning, Mr Sanderson. I appreciate your presentation very much. I'm keeping a running tally here and I must provide some information to you which may be consoling in one sense but discouraging in another. As the 17th witness, you are the 15th presenter who has said that they are, and these are my words, handicapped by the shortage of time in being able to present before the committee, and second, the disadvantage of not having the actual amendments to the legislation, seeing that they were so significant.
What I'd like to ask you, is something you addressed, and that was something that over the course of the last two days I've been harping on to the point where I'm getting fed up with my own question, but I must come back to it because I think it's germane and key. You talked about the criteria of the transition commission and the Dispute Resolution Commission. I wanted to read to you a section from the minister's statement. You may not have had an opportunity to receive it or hear it because she made this at the opening of the hearings of this committee. I will quote the minister and I would seek your response on it because I think it tries to address the major concern you have and that certainly our party has in opposition. She says this:
"I would like to now turn briefly to the criterion of ability to pay. The government will be extending the ability to pay and the other criteria which Bill 136 proposes that arbitrators consider for the hospital, police and fire sectors to new, post-amalgamation, first-contract arbitration proceedings" etc.
It's clear to me that what is happening is that while there is a statement by the minister that they will discard the two commissions, the terms of reference, the functions, the responsibilities and the criteria, which I think are the most important, will be transferred to the labour relations board, and in the case of those who don't have the right to strike, they will be broken up into those arbitration commissions with the police and firefighters, that sort of thing. Can I get your reaction to that, please, Steve?
Mr Sanderson: I'm saddened to hear that, to be honest with you. First I want to make a comment, very briefly, that what you indicated about the process of my being here in Ottawa and your being at Queen's Park in the committee hall in Toronto is terrible for another reason: Not only do people want to participate by coming before the committee, but it's important for people in the community to feel that the community is important.
Back to your question: The significance of that is that the respect of dignity that arbitrators have felt I think will be washed away. The process is important. We have always looked at it from the perspective of the impartiality and a non-biased approach to the situation. It's a quasi-judicial relationship that is there. If the impartiality is gone, then how can we respect those bodies? How will we feel there is any fairness about decisions being made?
I think you've captured it quite clearly in that if a body is no longer what it used to be, then what is it? Does it then become a puppet to the government? That I think is the most important aspect of the change we're attempting to ensure would be there, that the freedom for the individual to make those decisions based on what is best -- I say "best" here; not a best practice -- is obviously going to be lost if the ability of the government is going to be given over to the board. That will be a sad day for all people and all working people in the province.
The Vice-Chair: We now move to the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Hi, Steve. How are you?
Mr Sanderson: Very good.
Mr Christopherson: Great. Good to see you, anyway, on TV.
Mr Sanderson: On TV, yes. The video age.
Mr Christopherson: Yes. I feel like I'm talking to the Mir spacecraft here, and Max Headroom comes to mind too. I love your expression "theatre of the absurd." I've written that down. I think that's worth repeating in certain places.
I'm like Richard. You're expressing my feelings too, one of such supreme frustration that no matter what, you can't bring any sense to this process and to what's going on and still it marches on. It's a juggernaut that just can't be stopped and I guess it won't be until the next election when we find out whether there are enough people who feel the same way. Other than that, they're going to jackboot their way all the way through this whole process until they reach the end of whatever it is that they're going to do to us all.
I noted that you said the government showed some good sense when they finally backed down. Had there been some discussion with you ahead of time, which I know didn't take place, and had the government tabled what they were planning to do before they did it and then heard the alternatives of labour, all this could have been avoided. I've asked others this too: The first question would be, would you agree with that, that had they done a lot of this work before they tabled 136, the whole province could have avoided all this crisis?
Mr Sanderson: Absolutely. I agree with you completely on that. I'm not sure if you want me to go into any greater detail, but beyond the problems, I guess my family brought me up to respect those people who are elected to government and to see them as the individuals who really were responsible for our care, for our nurturing, to develop our communities. I can assure you that what has happened, as a result of the opposite of what you're saying, is that you have people living in chaos, in crisis, who are frustrated and angry and embittered. That, to me, is not what a government is there to do.
I can be mad at a particular aspect of this or that of what the government does, but the result of the juggernaut, as you describe it, with this government is that we're no longer important, we're no longer necessary; we're an appendage. That's the worst thing this government has done. I'm hoping in some ways that it will turn people's minds to the fact that changes need to be made and, as you say, maybe we have to wait longer, but we will make those changes and they will be for the people of Ontario.
Mr Christopherson: I noticed also that you said if only fairness would be added to what they've currently announced. I don't want to worry you too much, but we are dealing with a government that brought in a brand-new Ontario Labour Relations Act and a new Workers' Compensation Act, both previous acts which had the word "fair" in their purpose clause, and this government has removed it. We've heard from every single representative so far who has been concerned about process that all they want is fairness, natural justice, neutrality and unfettered decision-making. There are about half a dozen key buzz phrases that people are using.
The reality is, and I would ask you for your comments on this, that all the representatives of working people coming before us so far have not asked for anything special. All they've asked for is, to use a business term, a level playing field of fairness and impartiality and nothing more. They don't want it loaded in their favour and they're not trying to take away the rights that employers have in these circumstances. They just want a guarantee that they've got the rights that are necessary to have fairness. Is that what you're offering on behalf of your people in Ottawa?
Mr Sanderson: Yes, most undeniably. There's not a lot of talk here -- I don't think I've heard anything -- about people saying, "We want more of this, we want bigger salaries, we want better benefits." What we want is the integrity of the system to be left in place so that in relations -- and that's what our life is all about: human relations -- and in this particular way the relationships people have in their working lives, be done in a respectful and dignified fashion and that rules and regulations apply to the process that allow that fairness to be in place.
This definitely is not the case with this bill. It's stripping away any opportunity for people to be treated with that respect and dignity. If you take that away, you become master-servant. That's something we got rid of 60 years ago and I see that returning.
If that's what this government thinks of the people who live in this province, then that's not the government I want to live with any more and that's not the kind of province I want to live in. I think many people are turning away from this and inch by inch things will change. Of course, you're absolutely right that respect and dignity for working people throughout the province have to be assured.
I can tell you now that even beyond the statements I've made saying that we hope there will be changes, we have our fingers crossed in some ways but we're not giving up the battle. Until we see this stuff in black and white, I can assure you -- and this is not a threat; this is just a reality -- it's a battle that we're in right now. As we speak tonight in the Ottawa-Carleton area, we're opening our strike headquarters, not because we want to go on strike but because we are not sure what this government is going to do. We're not sure from one day to the other what this roller-coaster ride is about. If they are prepared to come forward and do things in a reasonable, acceptable, fair fashion, then we do that ourselves too.
I'm used to negotiating. I've been negotiating for years. You battle it out and when it's over you shake hands and you go back to work. Right now we haven't shaken hands because we haven't come to any conclusion, and that conclusion is something the government has to bring forward right now. We have to see where they're at. We have to see it on paper. It's got to be quite clear. Otherwise, the thing is a mish-mash. We're not prepared to sit back and say everything is hunky-dory.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. That concludes your time.
Just for the committee, I'll explain what's going to take place now. Our two presenters listed for 10:30 and 11 o'clock -- actually, there were three presenters who had asked for half-hour slots. They amalgamated into two, and what we're going to do now, unless there is strong objection from the committee, is have one presentation from the two slots and then open the remaining time of all three presenters for questions and answers. The reason this was done was that it opened up another time slot in the day, to go from three to two. Do you understand?
Mr Christopherson: I just want to be clear: There are two presentations and you're going to give them the time of three?
The Vice-Chair: No. What happened was, initially we had three groups who had asked to make presentations. They themselves amalgamated down to two, and that allowed us another time slot, okay? So now these two are wanting to present as one presentation so that we can use the full time of all three presenters we expect to hear from, use the full hour for their presentation, and whatever time left in that hour after their presentation is done is divided equally between the caucuses.
Mr Christopherson: So we're going to do an hour on the next two as one. Is that available to others too?
The Vice-Chair: This was a recommendation, and this is the first time I've heard that this has actually been requested. If the committee would rather have two separate ones, that's a decision the committee would take.
Mr Christopherson: No, I don't have any particular problems, certainly, with what they would like to do. It's just that there is an argument that that's not a bad way to go, and if that's the case, I wouldn't mind advising some other folks that they could do the same thing, because an hour's discussion with a focus of one presentation and us having some time divvied up gives you some time to get into some real detail. I can assure you there are other groups that would want to do that. I'm not trying to suggest that therefore we should stop this, but it may not be a bad idea, and if that's the case, then I would like to say to you that we'll take a look at other presentations and maybe do the same sort of thing.
Mr Patten: Do we have documents from any of these groups?
The Vice-Chair: It was just passed out, yes.
Mr Patten: We have one?
The Vice-Chair: Yes. Any other comments on the process as presented?
Mr Froese: I'm still not clear on what we're doing. The two presenters at 10:30 and 11 o'clock --
The Vice-Chair: They are all going to present together as one.
Mr Froese: Those two are going to present as one.
The Vice-Chair: Yes.
Mr Froese: Okay, and then there's going be half an hour divided between caucuses?
The Vice-Chair: Whatever time after the presentation is done will be divided between three caucuses, so essentially these groups will have an hour of time.
Mr Maves: That's unusual when we've got a motion saying that groups get half an hour. I understand the desire, but we're going to start getting groups combining and saying, "Now we're going to present for two hours." Where would that end?
The Vice-Chair: That's why I asked if there was discussion on how you wanted it to be handled.
Mr Froese: Mr Chair, I don't understand why they can't go in the same format. I don't understand what this third group is. We've got a presentation by the county of Frontenac and the new city of Kingston. That's what is up next, correct?
The Vice-Chair: Yes.
Mr Froese: So why can't they present in half-hour slots like everybody else?
The Vice-Chair: I believe they have asked to make a single presentation or use their time as one large group.
Mr Patten: The problem is that we haven't afforded that option to others. That's the only concern. We had all the police forces here and they all come as one. I'm sure if they knew they had that option, they would have wanted to divide up their presentation.
Mr Maves: And they would have presented for two hours. I think that raises real problems.
Mr Froese: Are you requesting us to --
The Vice-Chair: That's why I said unless there were --
Mr Maves: In my opinion, if they're a group to make a presentation, they should get the 30 minutes a group gets. If there are different people in each group and each wants to make a presentation for half an hour, that's a different situation. But if they're going to make the same presentation and they really want a group, I don't think they should be allowed to arbitrarily put their time together. As I said and as Mr Christopherson just said, five different police organizations were here yesterday and they could have presented for two and a half hours, and that's the problem.
COUNTY OF FRONTENAC
NEW CITY OF KINGSTON
The Vice-Chair: We'll hear from the people in Ottawa, if they would like to explain.
Mr Terrence Whyte: I'm Terrence Whyte. I'm the legal counsel for both Frontenac management transition board and the new city of Kingston's transition board. We thought it would make it easier to present once in the one-hour time frame for the committee. We are even quite prepared to relinquish the other half-hour and restrict this presentation to one presentation from the two groups with the questions allotted as you have done for other groups. We do not want special treatment but we will be making the same points, so if you would like, take all of our comments and double them, if that resolves the issue.
The Vice-Chair: I believe that resolves the concerns of the committee. We'll go ahead with a half-hour presentation.
Ms Donna Brown: Good morning, Mr Ouellette and members of the committee. I am Donna Brown, a member of the transition board for the Frontenac management board, and the reeve of Bedford township. A representative on behalf of the transition board for the city of Kingston could not be here today, unfortunately. I assure you that I am speaking on behalf of the whole Kingston area. I have with me today Lin Good, who is a member of the citizens' committee that was formed to advise the transition boards referred to as the human resources transition team. We are supported by Terrence Whyte, the partner of Templeman, Menninga, Kort, Sullivan and Fairbrother law offices. We are here today to make submissions with respect to the proposed amendments to Bill 136.
The first issue we would like to address is the timing of this legislation. It is critical to the success of the restructuring process that this legislation be enacted as soon as possible. To facilitate the restructuring process, it would be ideal that once the legislation has passed, it be made retroactive to the date the bill was originally introduced. In the alternative, it is our view that it is absolutely essential that the legislation come into effect the day it receives third and final reading, provided the third and final reading is prior to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.
The minister, in her speech announcing the amendments, made reference to her desire to "seek views as to whether a temporary public interest test should be applied during first-contract negotiations." It is our understanding that the minister thought this would take place after a strike or lockout had caused sufficient disruption that it was in the public interest to act.
We would submit that it would be in the public interest to allow either party to take a first contract under the restructuring to compulsory arbitration if the parties were unable to agree upon a first contract within 12 months of the changeover date; that is, December 31, 1998.
The Kingston/Frontenac transition order has a provision that provides that "service equals seniority" for all bargaining unit members and potential bargaining unit members. Bill 136 in its original form provided that these provisions in the transition order would not be changed. If it is the government's intention to ensure that all existing employees who are impacted by restructuring receive fair, consistent treatment as the process unfolds, it is absolutely essential that the amended legislation, complete with provisions for dovetailing, be maintained.
Further, it is our position that in order to deal with such factors as job postings, promotions, transfers, and layoff and recall, if the "service equals seniority" and "dovetailing" are not legislated, there is a significant potential for non-union employees to be treated as second-class citizens as they stand idly by while grievances over job postings, promotions, layoff and recall are grieved and arbitrated without their ability to be part of the process.
In her statement, the minister made reference to her desire to respect the democratic rights of all employees. It is our submission that in order to provide employees the right to choose whether or not they wish to be part of the bargaining unit and, if they choose to be part of the bargaining unit, which bargaining unit they wish to be part of, the 40% threshold contained in section 25 of Bill 136 is of utmost importance.
Further, we submit that you may wish to consider taking a vote in every circumstance. No matter what circumstance under which a vote is to be taken, it should be conducted in the normal democratic method of a secret ballot.
In addition to the timing of the implementation of legislation, we submit that the time lines as set out within the proposed legislation must be clearly detailed in the amended legislation. The Dispute Resolution Commission would have provided an expeditious process whereby collective agreements would have been finalized in a timely fashion.
Unfortunately, it appears that interest arbitration will revert to the procedures set out in the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act, Police Services Act and Fire Departments Act. In her statement, the minister suggested that amendments to Bill 136 would make provisions for expedited arbitration and for the use of other forms of arbitration. The proposed amendments to the bill must address the inexcusable delay in resolving interest disputes. Very often employers receive awards for collective agreements whose terms have expired for more than one year. Since freeze provisions prevent the alteration of any terms and conditions of employment until such collective agreements are finalized, employers simply cannot make any change to implement reorganization in a timely fashion.
As well, the minister supported the Ontario Federation of Labour's statement that there is no need for a new Labour Relations Transition Commission and that the Ontario Labour Relations Board could assume the responsibilities and functions proposed for the LRTC. While we do not disagree with that statement, the OLRB would only be able to cope with the increased workload if it is given sufficient competent staff to expeditiously process applications and proceedings arising out of restructuring.
Presently, any proceeding before the Ontario Labour Relations Board is time-consuming and lengthy. Very often it takes months to get a decision from the board. Delay in establishing bargaining units and bargaining agents for restructured organizations is intolerable and has the potential of significantly affecting in a negative fashion the employer relations in the workplace. Further, as we discussed above, the Ontario Labour Relations Board must be given the statutory authority and direction to deal with the merging of seniority and service of both unionized and non-unionized employees.
In summary, time lines are critical. It is also critical that competent staff be available at arbitration and the Ontario Labour Relations Board to make these decisions related to the restructuring process. The ministry may wish to establish decision-making panels similar to those that decide construction industry cases to handle, among other issues, those matters that will arise from the restructuring process.
In the interests of fairness to all concerned, bargaining unit and non-bargaining-unit employees alike, it is our submission that it is critical that there be an amendment which would clarify that once a winning bargaining agent has been determined for a particular bargaining unit, that bargaining agent's collective agreement be the agreement of record for the purposes of (a) determining a standard method for calculating seniority, including the calculation of service for non-union employees who become unionized employees; (b) the grievance and arbitration procedures the parties will follow; (c) job postings, promotions and transfers; and (d) layoff and recall.
As we have previously stated, failure to enact such an amendment could result in non-unionized employees being disadvantaged as they potentially watch grievances over job postings being grieved and arbitrated without their ability to participate in the process. Conversely, by identifying an agreement of record, it is presumed that the non-unionized employees would have these issues resolved as though they were members of the winning bargaining agent's union. This recommendation is totally consistent with the government's stated priority to protect non-unionized employees, a goal that is shared by our municipalities.
We in the Kingston area have led the way for restructuring. We did what the government asked us to do, and we did so in good faith, based on what the government promised in return. We need this bill in its original form to complete our restructuring and protect all of our employees. These people have contributed for years and years to their communities and they deserve fair treatment in return. We made restructuring decisions based on "service equals seniority." Our small communities have employees who have worked for 10 to 20 years in their jobs. They are our friends and our neighbours. Our decisions as community leaders were based on this format. It is imperative for our employees. We must give them fair and equitable treatment. They all deserve it.
My community of less than 1,000 permanent population has over 3,000 seasonal residents, and we are restructuring with three other municipalities to a size of over 15,000 population. Our employees must now compete for their own jobs, and they need to be on equal grounds with unionized workers.
The buck stops here at the local level. We are the last rung on the ladder. We are responsible for the future of our employees and our communities. We have no one else to pass down to. We take the brunt of the hits. We are it. The frustration of the day-to-day changes is overwhelming for all of us at the local level. We are at your mercy.
We thank you for this opportunity to make our submissions with respect to the amendments proposed to Bill 136. As stated above, it is critical that this restructuring process be supported by legislation that allows for the flexibility necessary in order for this process to be successful.
My colleague Lin Good would now like to make further comments on the points I have made, and then we would be open to questions from the committee.
Ms Lin Good: Mr Ouellette and members of the committee, my name is Lin Good. I am a former member of the Kingston city council. I am currently on the human resource transition advisory team. I wish to refer also to a restructuring in which I participated for the past five years which was part of the work of the Minister of Community and Social Services.
About five years ago, the agencies for children's mental health services in the six counties -- Hastings, Prince Edward, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark -- decided to get together to discuss whether they could indeed deliver better service to more people for roughly the same dollars. I want to emphasize that that restructuring initiative, though blessed and facilitated by the Ministry of Community and Social Services through their area office, did begin as a voluntary exercise by the agencies involved.
Most of the services were concentrated in Kingston, and technically, legally, the Kingston services dealt with the six counties. There were one or two outlying, very small agencies and one or two satellite operations from Kingston. But there was increasing dissatisfaction among the clients with the fact that every time they needed anything special, they had to drive in and out of Kingston. So the restructuring began.
I wish to emphasize that like Elizabeth Witmer and like the representative from CUPE, I do indeed believe in a fair process. I would not willingly serve on any board which tried to act otherwise with its employees. I wish to emphasize certain points which I've now learned by experience with children's mental health need to be addressed nevertheless.
I should explain that I suffer from a throat problem, so you will bear with me, I hope.
First I want to state that everything we did in children's mental health restructuring, we negotiated with the unions. I suppose the union perspective, for which I have some sympathy, would be that we discussed too little with them at the planning stage, but as soon as we realized that, those of us who were on the boards and therefore acting as the governance or employers, we brought in the union for discussions, to the point where eventually we negotiated a transition protocol which both parties duly signed -- all the unions and ourselves and all the agencies -- and which we tried to follow. It was the various stumbling blocks which came after that transition protocol agreement which brought me to decide to emphasize the following points for you.
I cannot emphasize too much that as well as equating service with seniority, it is absolutely vital to give dovetailing. We did not get that; we got endtailing, as the word goes, which meant that all the union people got a chance at their jobs before the non-union employees from the smaller agencies. This seems to us to be unfair. We had employees with very long service waiting to find out whether they would have any job at all after everyone else had taken their choice.
I'm pleased to tell you that despite all that, because we offered a very successful voluntary exit package which was accepted by 17 people, we in the end had to lay off no one. Nevertheless, we have some not-too-satisfied formerly non-union employees who had to take whatever they could get. That's one point.
I agree wholeheartedly with the concept which you've heard about that the winning bargaining agent's collective agreement, once established, should be the collective agreement of record. We did that. It worked, we thought, quite well until we came to the point of needing to change it to meet the new circumstances. It must be remembered that such a collective agreement was made for a very different organization than that which results from restructuring. Ours was made for one agency -- the largest one, it is true, but a very different agency from the new restructured organization which is now represented by four separate agencies based in the four areas of the six counties, not concentrated in the city of Kingston.
It becomes essential at this point for us to get to first-contract negotiations. I just wish to record again that there have to be time limits in getting there, as Donna has already pointed out. Although we have a collective agreement of record, we have had so many grievances that although we began to try to put in place a new organization and therefore begin contract negotiations 15 months ago, we are only going to get to the table for the first contract next Monday. This is not because of ill will. It is because of the frustration, perhaps on both sides, of dealing with a collective agreement of record which, although now recognized, does not really represent the new situation. We have dealt with enough grievances and dispute resolution motions for me to know that time indeed is of the essence and that the current system is really far too long-drawn-out and, I may say, too costly for people to carry.
I want to conclude by pointing out that we need the time lines. To give you an illustration of what happens when you don't, although we have a collective agreement of record, because we carried through the various wage scales of the previous agencies, we now have in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Aldington sector child and youth workers working side by side with a $7,000 annual pay differential. Until we get to the table we can do nothing about rationalizing the pay gaps, the needs and so on.
In conclusion, I want to point out that there are many parties to this. There is labour, and I agree we must listen, and should. There are also, though, the clients; there are the communities to be served. All of them have very definite interests in this matter. The very long-drawn-out process we've gone through I think only adds to the frustration, the uncertainty which inevitably accompanies any restructuring, and the timeliness and the firm timelines are necessary for everybody, including the workers, to get to the new beginning.
Mr Patten: Good morning. Welcome by way of teleconferencing. It would be nice to be meeting with you in person, though.
Mr Whyte: We should make a comment that it's just as easy for people in Kingston to go to Toronto as it is to come to Ottawa, in fact easier; however, we are here now.
Mr Patten: I kmow that. It would have been nicer for us to all come and visit you in Kingston is what I'm suggesting.
Mr Whyte: That's a nice thing to do.
Ms Good: Perfect.
Mr Patten: If I may ask a quick question to Ms Good, you suggested in your reorganizing of the Children's Mental Health --
Ms Good: Children's Mental Health Agency.
Mr Patten: I gather that involved some other agencies as well or was it just the Children's Mental Health Agency?
Ms Good: They were all the agencies funded by the children's mental health dollars in Comsoc.
Mr Patten: I'm limited in time so I'll have to be quick. I gather in your comments you started off by saying that many people were somewhat tired of always having to go to Kingston.
Ms Good: Yes.
Mr Patten: I take by that, that in the reorganizing there was some sense of spreading out the services closer to the people. Is that correct?
Ms Good: Yes, that was the principle of the reorganization. So we now have services in Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox, Leeds-Grenville and ourselves, and even within the agencies there we have satellites and communities where, according to our statistics, the greatest need is.
Mr Patten: I like the spirit of that initiative, but it seems to me it's a different value system from the amalgamations I observe in terms of bigger school boards, bigger municipalities, bigger hospitals, which mean there will be greater distances for people to travel, certainly for staff who work for those organizations, and for clients; I don't like the term clients, but for people who want to utilize services or to access what services are available. Would you agree with that?
Ms Good: I don't wish to comment on your premise, but I do want to say that we developed our own plan of what we thought was going to provide the best service. We presented it to the area office of the ministry, and eventually it came back virtually unchanged, and they agreed with it.
Mr Patten: To Ms Donna Brown, you had made a comment in your presentation -- it was on page 3 of a document I have here -- "Unfortunately, it appears that interest arbitration will revert to", it's the third paragraph, "the procedures set out in the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act, Police Services Act, and the Fire Department Act etc." I would like to refer you to the minister's remarks.
I'm not sure if you have them because it was just made -- was it two days ago? Two days ago the minister made the remark and I'll quote from her, "The government's proposed changes to Bill 136 will change the Fire Protection And Prevention Act, the Police Services Act and the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act to create expedited time lines to ensure the quick and timely resolution of disputes in the police, fire and hospital sectors."
I don't have time to go into the other areas as well, but there will be a fair amount transferred to these particular bodies that will -- I wouldn't want to use the word impose but I guess that's the only word I can use -- impose criteria and methods and mechanisms they do not have at the moment, or are not applying at the moment. Is that your understanding or is this new information to you?
Mr Whyte: That's new information to us. In any event we would reiterate the time lines and the expeditious process in this whole venue is desired and indeed required. We would also say that the factors of employers' ability to pay, possible reduction of services and so on that are contained in those pieces of legislation should also be given direction to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in its deliberations around first-contract arbitration.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. Question for Ms Brown and Ms Good: Would you have preferred, if you had your druthers, that the minister not announce changes to Bill 136 but rather leave it in its original form?
Mr Whyte: I'm going to respond on behalf of my clients in that regard. What we would have preferred doesn't matter at this point, with all due respect. What we're here to respond to is what we would like to see in the amended document. There are some aspects to the original document that we've already talked about that we would like to see retained, specifically the dovetailing, service equals seniority and specific time lines we would appreciate remaining in the amendment. That's contained in the document, Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Mr White. Let me then ask, would you have preferred to have seen, being a lawyer, the detailed amendments prior to making a submission?
Mr Whyte: With all due respect, the government is moving in a fashion that requires the moves it's making at this point. It is imperative for us to have these amendments, whatever they are, in place on or before Thanksgiving Day. They are necessary for the success of the restructuring process and for the fair and equitable treatment of all employees, bargaining unit or otherwise.
Mr Christopherson: Is there anything the OFL has suggested that you would think is not fair or objective or impartial, that you would have trouble with?
Mr Whyte: Not having read the comments of the Ontario Federation of Labour in detail, I am not going to comment on that.
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I want to commend, particularly the politicians, but all the people of the Kingston-Frontenac area for their initiative and the fine example they've set in looking at downsizing and reorganizing local government to provide a better and higher quality service for the dollars being spent.
We've had a lot of presentations at this committee. Quite a number of them have come forward and said we do not need a Bill 136 or anything of that nature to deal with restructuring. The present system in place will look after all the things that are required. I gather from your presentation that would not hold true in the Kingston-Frontenac area, that as you're going through your transition, there are some holes in the system that are creating some problems as you deal particularly with putting together the labour forces that presently work for the different municipalities?
One in particular seems to be the issue of dealing fairly and equitably with the non-unionized people in the workforce as opposed to what in your case may be the majority of people who are presently organized with some legal representation. Recognizing that your restructuring regulation actually deals with that dovetailing -- your comments on why that is not working sufficiently and the need for further clarification in Bill 136.
Mr Whyte: On the one hand, we think it is working through the transition order, but the transition order in its document only talks about service equalling seniority and does not necessarily reflect on the dovetailing aspect of it. I'd pass it to Ms Good to comment further.
Ms Good: So far we've been assuming that we are all right with that because the way we all have been reading the minister's order, we're taking it that service equals seniority and we may dovetail. But we don't sit down with our unionized employees to discuss the transition protocol until tomorrow. Until tomorrow I shan't know whether it is in fact going to be an accepted point or one we then have to face as being not accepted. We've so far only dealt with our non-unionized senior staff in the hiring process.
Mr Whyte: From the perspective of the use of Bill 136 or its amendments, it is an important document to the success of the restructuring and we see it as a time-limited document that would assist in that process.
Ms Good: In children's mental health we began not with the minister's order unfortunately, but with our own principle, that we would do service equals seniority and dovetailing, but we failed to carry it through. We lost on that point and we ended up endtailing.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. That concludes our time. Thank you very much, Ottawa, for joining us this morning.
CITIZENS FOR LOCAL DEMOCRACY
The Vice-Chair: We will now ask for Citizens for Local Democracy to come forward.
Mr John Sewell: My name is John Sewell and I'm --
Mr Hastings: Point of order, Mr Chairman: My point of order pertains to the offensive and odious behaviour made by this deputant, Mr Sewell, at a meeting last Thursday of the standing committee on general government. I believe those actions and his comments near the end of the meeting were not only odious and offensive, they were hurtful to a certain group in our society. I would like to see Mr Sewell at least make an apology to members, some of whom are on this committee, some of whom were on the other committee, before he proceeds today.
The Vice-Chair: Mr Hastings, being that this is the resources committee, it is not my position or ability to determine the actions that took place in another committee. I believe the appropriate time to have raised any concerns you are bringing forward would have been at the committee where the infraction or so-called infraction took place. I'm afraid I have to rule that point of order as being out of order.
Mr Hastings: We didn't have that opportunity at that committee.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you. Perhaps if you could continue, Mr Sewell, please.
Mr Sewell: My name is John Sewell and I'm one of the people who's on the steering committee of the Citizens for Local Democracy. We're an organization that has been meeting in Toronto once a week since last December. We usually meet on Monday evenings. Currently we're meeting in Metropolitan United Church. We attract considerable numbers of people to the meetings to talk about not only issues around megacity, but other parts of the world, things that are happening at the provincial level.
We've given considerable thought to the question of Bill 136 and I wanted to give you two pieces of information that may be helpful to the committee before I make my remarks.
First, I've brought copies of our newsletter that was published in June 1977. It is a commentary, on one side, "Squashing Democracy in the Workplace," of general approaches to what's happened in the workplace in the last 100 years with a very interesting quote from the labour code of Canada about what labour relations should be, and on the other side, a brief summary of our understanding of Bill 136. This has been distributed fairly widely, certainly throughout C4LD but among other people as well. That will give you a brief overview of how it is that C4LD is looking at Bill 136.
The second thing I want to point out is another newsletter. This is a very recent one that's dated September. It's a list of what we call our civic priorities. C4LD has been involved in a long discussion, and a really long discussion, over the summer about what should be the basic points we believe in going into this municipal election in Metro Toronto.
We've worked out something relatively brief, which is a set of three principles and then a set of half a dozen actions. The actions are divided into subpoints and if you look under "Strong Public Services," you'll see point 6 in the right-hand column here, "Staffing levels and salaries of municipal workers must be protected and the provincially controlled arbitration process contained in Bill 136 must be avoided."
These principles have emerged after long discussion, and when they were finally voted on on September 15 at our meeting, there were probably 450 or 500 people present. The point I want to make is that the amount of support behind these documents is, in the scheme of citizen politics, relatively significant. There's been a lot of discussion. People are aware of the issue and people have taken some strong views about 136 as not being a helpful bill, as being something that is hurtful. It's in that context I wanted to comment very briefly in the time available to me.
I want to begin with a really brief historical perspective on public-political relationships. We began, as everybody knows, with relationships between kings and subjects. People found that wasn't satisfactory, that kings had too much power and subjects had much too little power and we moved on to a different kind of relationship during the 19th century, where we moved not only from king to subjects but then from master to servants, and a lot of people defined their position, whether they were a master or whether they were a servant.
What's interesting about the last 120 years is the move towards more equitable relationships between people. We really have moved into an era of democratic decision-making where everyone has a vote, where it's thought that people should have some sort of equality, that expressing our relationships as master and servant or king and subject is no longer good enough.
I think one can see that in terms of the recent death of Princess Diana, the personal relationship a lot of people had with her, that those old relationships really have broken down in our society and we're trying to reach a more democratic relationship where people are valued relatively equally. It's not perfect, there's no question about that, our attempts to try and reach a democratic understanding. We're aware some people have influence far beyond their numbers, particularly those who have significant sums of money. But nevertheless I think the drift in society is to try and reach some democratic framework where no one is willing to say one person's life is not worth as much as another person's life.
Obviously those kinds of ideas about democracy have to be taken to the workplace because most of us spend so many hours of our lives at the workplace. Taking democracy to the workplace is difficult since there are unequal relationships to begin with. Someone has started out saying, "This is my company and therefore I've got some choices to make," or they say, "I was appointed as the manager and therefore I have some choices to make."
But I think everybody recognizes that if we don't have some forms of democracy in the workplace, we're going to be in real trouble. There have been a lot of attempts in the last 100 years to figure out exactly how to do that. How do you bring democracy, treating people equally, with respect, to the workplace? There have been two big moves as we're aware. One is the idea that there's freedom of assembly, that workers can join together to protect their interests, to express their interests, to negotiate their interests. That's been widely recognized as a democratic kind of overlay in the workplace. The second major principle is that if in fact you can't reach some kind of negotiation as a worker, you have a right to withdraw your services. They're two really big principles that have been put in place because of the democratic movement of the world in the last 100 years.
I think people have recognized that you can never underestimate the importance of negotiation. It's negotiation that gives the opportunity for both sides to air their problems and their differences and in fact try and reach an agreement. It's the agreement that provides the basis for acquiescence so that people feel they've bought into something that's their own.
If you don't permit free negotiation, and there are some cases where we've decided we won't permit free negotiation because the jobs are too important and we don't want people to withdraw their services, then what we've done is set up an arbitration process and the compromise we made was that the parties themselves would choose the arbitrators. So even in that situation where we're dealing with very important workers, we say you must choose your arbitrator because that's the closest we can get to democratic principles.
The point I want to make is that none of this is perfect, but it's an attempt to represent the values of democracy that I think most people in Ontario hold very dear. Now, of course, Bill 136 throws these principles right out the window. It says that we don't have any time for those kinds of notions that have been developed and in fact it's as though the government has not paid attention to the last 100 years and this very important struggle that has affected all of us, which in fact people have gone to war about in this century.
Bill 136 is a really weird duck then, because it stands against the drift of where we've been going.
The problem of course that I have today is trying to sort out how I should characterize this particular hearing. In view of what Bill 136 does, in view of the drift that we've been seeing in our society towards democracy, what are we supposed to think of this hearing?
We know, for instance, that the minister says she doesn't agree with Bill 136 any more. She wants to make some changes to it. Unfortunately, we don't know what those changes are. She hasn't given us the words. In fact, my understanding is the words aren't going to be made available until after the hearings are over. Then I begin thinking, so what is the purpose of the committee hearing?
Usually my understanding is that committee hearings are in order to permit the public to make their views known on legislation. I'm aware of the trend of this government to severely limit hearings, so most of the people who've asked to be heard simply aren't permitted to be heard. I'm aware of that and I've seen that too often on too many bills. I think that's really unfortunate and it's not something that you should be part of. But of course that's not the purpose of this hearing, because we don't know what the legislation is.
As far as I can see, there are only two other purposes then of this hearing. One purpose would be to make it look as though the public has been listened to, sort of as a charade. My question is, is that what the purpose is? You want to make it look as though the public has been heard, when you yourselves haven't even seen the legislation? If that's not the purpose, the only other purpose I can see is to try and somehow mislead the public, try and use up our time for something where you don't even have the legislation. I'd really be interested in knowing what you actually see as the purpose? Why is it that as government members you're here?
Mr Maves: To hear you.
Mr Sewell: About what? I can't talk about the legislation. Even you don't know what it's going to say. I would like to talk when I know what the legislation's going to say. That's when I and other people might really be helpful. We could say, "You got this word wrong," or "That's an interesting idea, but maybe you should take it that way." And if the question is you want to hear me -- you don't want to hear me. You've got other important things to do. So I begin to think maybe it is to make it look as though the public has been heard, when you don't have the legislation. I think that's a pretty sad situation.
The question occurred to me as I was writing my brief, do you actually tell your spouses and your children the anguish you must feel about being put into this awful situation where you're being used as a pawn, when you don't know what's happening? You have to hear people about stuff that they can't even talk about? Do you share that anguish with anyone?
I suspect it must be considerable. I mean, let's face it. You have my sympathy. I think your leaders are making you look like fools, like buffoons. They've sat you up as cardboard figures where you can't even talk about the legislation because even you don't know what it is. I can't talk about it. I can only talk about something the minister says she doesn't like any more. It seems to me that's unfortunate.
I was thinking, what's the analogy? It seems to me you're just like the lackeys that we heard about in the days of the Soviet Union, when everything was form and no substance. They had a terrific constitution, which we all knew meant nothing. We've got a committee hearing which looks terrific, but it means nothing because you haven't even got the legislation. I can't even talk to the legislation. I thought, imagine that, you guys are the reincarnation of that corrupt and dishonest system that was overthrown in the Soviet Union. That's what they did all the time, and you're doing it now. I think that's really sad.
I think you should object to that. I think you should say you aren't going to take that role any more, that you aren't going to be treated by your leaders like that. I think you should say you believe in democracy. And that people who want to speak to this shouldn't be treated in that manner. I believe there would be very considerable support for you if you said it.
I think everybody agrees there are changes that should be made in Ontario -- nobody doubts that -- but these changes are not set out in Bill 136. Even the minister agrees on that now. What we need are well-thought-out changes. We don't need the whiffle-waffling that we've seen. I just thought of John Snobelen, who comes out with some legislation one day and then says, "Gee, I realize I didn't consult the right people and now I'm going to change it." That makes you look awful. I feel sorry for you in that it's awful to be put in that position where your leader tries to make a fool of you.
What I want to do is I would like to appeal to your best values. I believe that all of you actually in your hearts believe in democracy and that people should be treated fairly and that they should have a chance to comment on legislation before it's passed. I think you should be standing up for those values. I think you should admit that these hearings are a sham and that we need new hearings once the amendments to the bill are available, which I understand will be Monday.
I wanted to end with one of the great politicians of our age, a man called Vaclav Havel, who is the President of the Czech Republic. He's a man who spent most of his political career in jail because he spoke up against the dishonesty of the government, the sham of the government when it tried to have hearings and in fact they were sham hearings. He's put out a recent book of speeches that I commend to you. It's called "The Art of the Impossible." He made a speech in Athens in May 1993 and I just want to read you three paragraphs from it, which I think are really on point because he's a man who values politicians immensely. He thinks the job that politicians do is very important, as indeed do I, but of course he talks about living in truth. Here's what he says:
"I find it fantastic that today's civilization makes it possible for the whole world to witness important events no matter where they happen in the same instant. It is marvellous that people can communicate with each other immediately when they want to, and that they can meet at a few hours' notice." We've just seen that on television right now, the discussion Mr Hardeman had with the people in Ottawa.
"I also deem it immensely important that politics is under the scrutiny of a free and independent press. The only thing that worries me is the depersonalization and dehumanization of politics that has come about with the progress of civilization. An ordinary human being with a personal conscience, personally answering for something to somebody, and personally and directly taking responsibility, seems to be receding further and further from the realm of politics. Politicians seem to have turned into puppets that only look human and move in a giant, rather inhuman theatre. They appear to have become merely cogs in a huge machine, objects of a major automatism of civilization that has gotten out of control and for which nobody is responsible.
"Today's world, as we all know, is faced with multiple threats. From whichever angle I look at this menace, I always come to the conclusion that salvation can only come through a profound awakening of man to his own personal responsibility, which at the same time is a global responsibility. Thus, the only way to save our world, as I see it, lies in a democracy that recalls its ancient Greek roots. Democracy based on an integral human personality, personally answering for the fate of the community."
I think that's a challenge you should take up. We should be honest about this and say we've got to see what the legislation is and then we've got to have real public input. You're the people who can ask for it. I think that's your democratic obligation, and I hope you will accept it. Thank you very much.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. That allows approximately four minutes per caucus for questions and answers, and we begin with the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, John, for your presentation. I don't know that I have any questions, but I have a couple of thoughts in response to your presentation. If there's an opportunity for you to respond to that, terrific.
First of all, it's a magical moment for me when any former mayor of Toronto rolls in here and calls these guys a bunch of commies. That gives me a warm feeling all over and I'll hang on to that for an awfully long time.
Mr Christopherson: The other thing I want to focus on is about the process -- and you can always tell when I get to them because they start heckling. Other than that, they clam up.
Your talk about the process and the need for the amendments to be present. I don't know if they'll go down this road with you but they have with others, saying, "Well, the usual process is that we hear what people have to say and then we consider it and then we offer up amendments based on that," and then suggest that this is not different.
Of course, this is entirely different, given that the minister announced a bill and then before we even got to the hearings announced that she was gutting it. Basically, we don't have Bill 136 any more, and your point is, without knowing the amendments, we don't know what the bill is. That's unlike anything that's ever happened here before.
You're going to hear that they're listening, that they're going to want to consider. But if you know the process, as I know you do, that's simply not possible. It's not practical; you can't do it. The hearings conclude tomorrow at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. By 10 am Monday morning we have to have our amendments in and the government's supposed to have theirs in. Interestingly, we don't get the final report on the summary of the presentations from tomorrow from our research staff until 9 am Monday morning.
How all that's supposed to happen, including if they're serious about considering things -- I haven't heard an announcement about a special emergency cabinet meeting, and of course it takes a cabinet meeting to make any major changes. So they have already decided what they're going to do and have passed it through their cabinet process, or they have absolutely no intention of listening to what anyone has to say, and since there isn't any other piece of that decision-making process, that is the case in my opinion. This is just a sham, and I don't think we can scream that from the rooftops enough.
It reminds me of Bill 7, where they brought in a brand-new Ontario Labour Relations Act, entirely brand-new, without one minute of public hearings. When you look at the history of this province, even every Tory Premier who thought of changing one comma in the Ontario Labour Relations Act personally phoned the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour of the day to talk about it to see whether that was going to create a problem, and this is that same kind of sham process.
I guess the only other thing I would say is clearly Mr Hastings didn't want to hear what you had to say because he stormed out of here shortly after you began.
Mr Sewell: I don't disagree, but I think the individual members have a personal responsibility and that's what I want to call on, Mr Newman, Mr Hardeman, Mr Maves, and the Chairman, Mr Ouellette. We aren't automatons; we're individuals. We have a personal sense of responsibility. I want people to respond to their own personal values, not to hide behind a party. I mean, we're back into the Communist Party thing. People hid behind the party: "Ah, the party knows best." Parties don't know best. Individuals know much better. I call on you gentlemen to rely on your democratic values, and I'm sure that you have, and object to this situation.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much for your presentation. Mr Christopherson notes that he's happy to have the government called Communists by yourself, and I guess we could say the same thing. During the Social Contract, which you didn't make presentations on because they didn't have public hearings, it didn't allow collective bargaining at all.
Mr Sewell: I think the government was wrong. They were wrong.
Mr Maves: Right. Good, I'm happy to hear that.
Mr Sewell: But it's the same point. They were wrong and you're wrong. Same thing. Don't miss it.
Mr Maves: I think I have the floor at this point in time. I know you don't want to hear other people's opinion. You just want to steal the floor, but --
Mr Sewell: I respect your opinion, Mr Maves, and I responded to it.
Mr Maves: How can you tell? You haven't heard it.
Mr Sewell: Yes, you made an opinion about the Social Contract and I agree with you on it.
Mr Maves: I just want to read into the record that other people, supporters of the government back then, said the same thing as you have said: "The Social Contract takes our right to negotiate away. It really takes us back to a Communist regime, a dictatorial government."
They had no hearings. We are at least having hearings.
I'll also say, Mr Sewell, in 1989 --
The Vice-Chair: Order, please.
Mr Sewell: I don't think you come out too well in that comparison.
Mr Maves: Let's talk about that comparison. I'd like to talk about that comparison, since you've brought that up. In 1989, the Liberal government passed 93 bills, had 529 hours of hearings. In 1994, the NDP government passed 40 bills, had 681 hours of hearings -- a better record than the Liberals. In 1996, the PC government passed 33 bills, with over 720 hours of hearings. In that comparison I think we fare quite well.
Mr Sewell: Let me comment on that, if I could.
Mr Maves: Certainly.
Mr Sewell: I'd be delighted. I think it's interesting to run by numbers, but I don't think they mean anything, and here's a couple of reasons they don't mean anything. The habit of this government is to introduce amendments that have no relationship whatsoever to any of the presentations that have been made. That's my experience in Bill 103, where in fact you had very many hours of hearings. You heard about half the people who wanted to speak, not everybody, and in fact the amendments had nothing whatsoever to do with the hearings. The hearings were a sham.
I think what you've got to start doing is looking at quality. That's what we're dealing with here. We're dealing with something -- I guess it's the bravado of you guys that really gets me, that at the end of the day you don't care what people think. It's like the megacity. You know, "You can have a vote; we don't care what your vote is."
You can have people talk and you say, "We don't care; we've got an excuse as to why we don't have to listen." I think you've got to start looking at what your democratic obligation is and get off your numbers and start dealing with quality.
Mr Maves: I would like to do that --
Mr Sewell: You're talking like the automaton that Havel was talking about.
Mr Maves: I remember in Bill 103 you talking about the government's intention to steal reserve funds.
Mr Sewell: Yes.
Mr Maves: I saw that on your web site, and I saw that in a lot of presentations.
Mr Sewell: I'm glad you haven't, but in fact you haven't protected them.
Mr Maves: And we brought in --
Mr Sewell: Bill 148?
Mr Maves: -- an amendment in Bill 103 to expressly say that --
Mr Sewell: No, you didn't, not about reserve funds. No siree. The only reference to reserve funds is in Bill 148, which is now being considered, and people are in there saying they are not being protected. Leach said at the end of the day he wasn't going to make that amendment after all and he didn't. I might say he brought in his amendments on the Thursday evening of a Good Friday. That's when I went to his house, to say, "This is shocking; you can't do this."
Of course he says, "Of course I can."
Mr Patten: Thank you, Mr Sewell, for coming this morning. Whether people agree with you or disagree, one thing is certain. There are few people who have demonstrated the love and the concern and the diligence to fight for their community, and I want you to know that I respect you for that.
Mr Sewell: Thank you very much.
Mr Patten: I share your characterization of this hearing. It is a weird duck, because as you say, you're not really sure what you're dealing with. The government says, "Take the word of the minister." It's taken a couple of days to absorb because we didn't have a copy of her speech when she made a presentation. As I go through the detailed comments of what she said, I'm more and more convinced that the reason the amendments are not before us, and none of the members on the government side have disputed this, is because I expect that they will transfer all the criteria from the two commissions they abandoned and place them under the other bodies that people are asking for, but impose the same criteria that they had on the commissions. That, I believe, is the reason they are not placing them us, and I think when that happens, certainly the major unions are going to hit the roof --
Mr Sewell: Yes, I agree.
Mr Patten: -- and they will feel that they have been misled.
I don't know, sir, whether you have had the opportunity to hear the comments of the minister at her opening remarks at committee. Did you have that?
Mr Sewell: I have a general awareness of them, but I haven't seen a copy of them, no.
Mr Patten: The transcript is available, I believe, from the clerk, Mr Arnott, outside. But if you go through very carefully and you look at her words, she is empowering with new powers all of these bodies with the functions and responsibilities that were given to the LRTC and to the Dispute Resolution Commission, so --
Mr Sewell: Then they'll really have to change the title of the act, right? They're going to have to get rid of that word "stability," because I think the world will crack apart very quickly.
Mr Patten: My comment on it is I was here from 1987 to 1990. I lost in 1990 and I worked for a children's hospital. Between that time I've come back and I must tell you that I feel ashamed to be a member of this Legislature, which in my opinion is the most undemocratic legislature in all of Canada. I cannot represent my people, nor my caucus, at hearings of this nature in the fullest sense and in the sense in which I believe the legislation is intended because of the imposition of time allocations and the short-circuiting of the opportunity to even respond appropriately.
In Bill 99 we had only four days to draft our amendments following the hearings. We have one hour of one sessional day to do that. Obviously we will be working all through the weekend, which we will -- I don't mind doing that; I do it all the time -- but the fact remains that we will still not see the amendments. And once the amendments that are put forward by the government are submitted at 10 o'clock on Monday morning, the time allocation motion says you cannot amend those amendments.
So even in discussion as we reflect upon those we may have some thoughts -- as you suggested, "Maybe it should go a little bit this way; we might agree with you somewhat on this but to ameliorate the legislation or the section, how about doing this?" -- we can't even do that. If that isn't a denial of democracy, I really don't know what is.
It's difficult to get out to the press in particular to explain to them the process of what goes on here. They don't care about process because they are so issue oriented, but the underlying issue of democracy, as you stated, I feel very deeply about. It is undermined in Ontario and I believe it is the most undemocratic Legislature in all of Canada at the moment.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much. That concludes the presentation time. Personally I'd like to thank the presenters today as well as the members for a minor footnote, that being that this is the first time this committee has partaken in video teleconferencing. This committee stands recessed until 1530 of the clock today.
The committee recessed from 1157 to 1532.
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Our first presenters this afternoon are going to appear before us by way of teleconferencing from South Bruce, and our first presenter is Carol Butler. Thank you very much for coming before us this afternoon.
Ms Carol Butler: I thank you for allowing me to come to speak today to voice my objection to the Public Sector Transition Stability Act, Bill 136. My name is Carol Butler and I was a home child care provider for Wellington County Social Services from August 1991 to June 1995. While many parts of Bill 136 are unfair, I will speak only to the one part of this legislation that was written to stop me from exercising my right to a fair and impartial hearing to determine if I should be able to collect pay equity.
Subsection 4(1.1) reads, "An individual who, on or after the effective date, provides private home day care as defined in section 1 of the Day Nurseries Act in his or her own home is not an employee for the purposes of this act."
This section of the Public Sector Transition Stability Act is a direct interference with a case that is currently before a judicial body known as the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal. How do I know this? Because it is my case that this piece of legislation covers. You could call it the Carol Butler amendment.
I started providing home child care in 1985 in Metro Toronto. At first, I was privately working 12 hours a day for the vast sum of $10 each day. I believe that in the same year I began working for York private home day care for wages that were really not much better. In December 1988, I moved to Peel region and provided home child care for their agency, and in 1991 I moved to Wellington county and continued providing home child care there.
On a part-time basis, I completed my early childhood education diploma, and in 1992 I graduated with high honours. During the vast majority of my time with these agencies, I questioned nothing and I did everything I was told. I accepted their wages. I took no more children than they told me I could have. I signed their contracts, their agreements. I never charged any more than the fee they paid, as this was not allowed. I kept my home up to their standards. I let them into my home each month. I provided police checks and doctors' certificates ensuring that myself and my family were of no risk to the children. All this control and I was supposedly self-employed.
When I moved to Wellington county, their terms and conditions were much the same as the agencies where I had worked before. I willingly went along with them, but for me things were starting to change. I was tired of the label of "babysitter," and I believed that home child care providers needed to gain professional recognition and respect.
In order to accomplish this, I became more involved in learning about my profession and ways to try to improve it. I met many contacts around the province and I learned from them the way home child care was carried out and the concerns they had. With this education, I began to try to stand up for issues that concerned me. I began asking for pay raises in order to allow me to carry out a high-quality program. For the most part, my requests fell on deaf ears. I requested the right to have input into a variety of conditions that I had to work under, and again that was rejected.
In 1992, my pay schedule was changed with no notice, and despite my complaints all over the county, nothing was done. When I wrote to the then NDP Minister of Labour asking for protection for self-employed individuals such as myself, he told me that all I had to do was change the contract I had. That was a major mistake, because when I finally had the nerve to question my agreement with the county in 1993, they told me that if I did not sign it, I would be placed on two weeks' notice. I'd be terminated. They "don't sign individual provider agreements" was what I was told.
I then looked at all my past experiences of providing child care in my home in a new light. If I was self-employed, why do I have to sign their agreement? Why aren't they signing mine? If I was self-employed, why did they set the rate of pay instead of me? If I was self-employed, why do I have no say into the conditions I work under, such as training and qualifications?
When I attempted then to set up an advisory board in the county in order to give parents and providers input into the system, it was rejected. Well, it wasn't really rejected. They felt that we as providers had 10 minutes at the start of each of their planned meetings, with their staff supervising us, to discuss any of the concerns we had. That was all that our input was worth: 10 minutes at the start of a meeting once a month.
I began to feel that I was not self-employed, but I was really unsure what I should do about it, so I continued to bring my concerns both to the county and to the government of the day, although no changes were ever made. I also then decided that as my county clients left my home, I would not replace them with new clients from there. The aggravation was just not worth it. It seemed to me that I was only self-employed when it was convenient.
It was in 1994 that I heard from someone that people providing home child care had the right to pay equity. I thought long and hard about it and I decided that the time had come for me to support my sisters in the field. I did not realize that I was the first.
In December of that year, with only one county child left, secure if I was terminated for my actions, I filed for pay equity. In February 1996, a ruling from review officer Beverly Dalys came down in my favour. It granted that providers were to be a job class and that we were entitled to pay equity. Wasting little time, Wellington county appealed, and as of today we are before the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal, having our case heard and ultimately decided by an impartial third party.
This case has not been without toll on myself, my family, my day care children and my parents. I have spent many days away from home relying on my husband to take care of my son and my day care children. Friends have taken the children if my husband is unavailable, and my parents have been so very supportive, allowing for arrangements to be made for the time that I have been away.
My day care children have been great, and while they accept the arrangements that have been made, after my being away five days in August, one of them finally said to me, "Carol, when won't you have to go away any more?" I felt so bad. How do I explain to a seven-year-old that I am trying to stand up for what I believe in, a value that I do try to teach her? I sometimes wonder what I'm doing there when where I really belong is at home teaching and loving my kids.
I have had no vacation. My days off are taken at hearings. I have had to cut back on my education because I don't have any time to work on school assignments. I don't think I will ever be able to get a job anywhere, because the newspaper headlines have said I'm responsible for closing down home child care across the province. It's a really heavy burden to bear just because I had the nerve to point out that I was exploited and underpaid.
I do not really think that people understand the job I do, because if they did, they wouldn't be questioning me and fighting my call for equality. I currently work 55 hours a week, although in the past I have worked from Sunday night at 7 pm to Friday night at 6 pm. I feed children breakfast, lunch and snacks, and on occasion dinner. I take them to the park, to play group, and on learning trips such as the fire station, a pig farm and our local nature centre, just to name a few. I plan and implement an educational program with the children based on each child's needs. I work with my parents if we have concerns with a child's development, and in the past I have been involved with other professionals in order to serve a child better.
Out of the money a provider is paid, often around $18 to $22 a day, we have to feed the children, provide books and toys for them, crafts and craft supplies, cleaning supplies, bedding, extra insurance on our home and, when working for an agency, police checks and medical checks. Out of the $20 a day, working an average of 10 hours, I receive $2, out of which I have to pay for the above-mentioned supplies.
Many people feel that I don't really work for a living, that I'm just at home. While it is nice that I am at home for my own child every day, I, like other working parents, do my shopping, clean the house and go to the doctor after work. Many is the night my family waits until almost 7 o'clock for dinner, as I am outside supervising my children and can't be in the house cooking. It was this sort of an attitude over 20 years ago, when women first began performing child care in their homes, that allowed us to end up in the pink ghetto where we currently reside.
During the day, I have many roles. I am a resource to parents as well as their caregiver. To the children I am their friend, teacher, chauffeur, nurse, cook, cleaner, playmate and surrogate parent. For this lofty sum that I receive each day, I receive no pension, no paid vacation, no paid sick time, no EI and no guaranteed placements. We would not in our First World country tolerate paying people in sweatshops this poorly, yet we think it is quite acceptable to pay the mostly female workforce caring for the most important resource we have, our children, this type of wage with no benefits.
This issue is not only based on money. It has to do with fairness, respect, dignity and the right to have a say in the conditions you work under. My experiences in working with agencies have shown me that I have no rights. If I don't like it, I can leave. But why should I have to leave a job that I love and one that I am good at? Why can't I remain at it and have some basic human rights given to me? Children should have the right to a loving, stable, safe day care situation, and that is often denied to them in this field because of the low pay, lack of job security, or the women providing the care having to take in more children than they are allowed just to make a decent living.
If the government chooses to pass Bill 136 with this amendment left in, you will have succeeded in telling a group of skilled professional women that they are no better than the 12-year-old girl next door who works on Saturday nights. You will be taking away my right to have my case heard and decided on by an expert body skilled to decide this case, the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal. Again, let me remind you that I won the initial ruling. It was my former employer, Wellington County Social Services, who chose this route, not me.
It has been my experience in dealing with this government that who you are influences what is done. I have written and outlined my concerns in a patient, professional manner, and for my trouble have been advised that the government cannot comment. The municipalities in this province express concern about this issue and they get legislation. They have all banded together to raise funds to fight one woman who has said: "No. I will not be silent and continue to be exploited."
This legislation comes right in the middle of my case, with three more provider pay equity cases waiting. The honourable minister, rather than waiting to see the outcome, is trying via this clause to directly affect my case and those that may follow. In order to ensure that no provider will ever succeed, she has backdated the effective date of this legislation to January 1, 1988, almost 10 years ago.
She knows this issue, and under pressure she has responded directly to the voice of the municipalities to act on it because they perceive me as a threat to their continued exploitation of women. I wrote to her over two months ago asking for the right to have input into this legislation and to ask her also, what do providers have to do with public sector transition stability? I have yet to receive a reply. Yet dialogue does appear to be going on with the municipalities. I've heard there have been three months of consultations, yet no one consulted me, a party directly involved.
The Minister of Labour did not even have the common courtesy to advise me about these hearings. I was informed by the office of my MPP, Ted Arnott, who has been as supportive and helpful as he is able to be.
I ask you to remember what is happening with Bill 102 and how the courts have ruled that the government was wrong in stripping those women of their pay equity rights. I am telling you right now that should this legislation go through, I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my rights are not denied.
How far I will get, however, is debatable. I lack the deep pockets of the municipal and provincial governments to fight on forever. My resources are limited. This government has even cut funding to Pay Equity Advocacy and Legal Services, preventing me from obtaining a lawyer unless I pay for one on my own. The fact that I don't need a lawyer before the pay equity tribunal or the labour board is cold comfort when my former employer walks in with one. The ironic thing is that as I am fighting to keep my human rights and dignity with the lawyer that I have had to hire, my tax dollars are paying for the municipality's and/or the province's lawyer as well. Where is the justice there?
Today it is not only my rights but the rights of all women seeking pay equity that are being taken away. Now I am forced to ask you, whose rights are next? If the government does not like the fact that a journalist is writing certain stories, will they lose the right to print it? My biggest worry is that I also have a case pending with Wellington county before the labour relations board, and again I will spend the effort, the time and the money only to see legislation changed to prevent me from succeeding once more.
I never have asked and I never will ask for anyone to interfere in my case to ensure my victory. I believe that I am right and I believe that I will win, but no matter what, I deserve the right to see this issue through and have a decision from the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal, the labour relations board or, if necessary, the Human Rights Commission or the courts. No one should have the right in a democratic province to legislate that away.
In conclusion, I would just like to reiterate to you my request to be treated on an equal judicial basis. If Bill 136 is passed into law with this amendment, the government will have effectively condemned not only myself, but other women who have chosen to nurture, love and educate children, to consider forsaking their chosen profession.
Home child care is a predominately female work group. With this bill, you are forcing the women and children, many of whom are among the poorest of the poor in this province, to bear a huge chunk of the fiscal restraint. You are sending a clear message to us that the service we provide is not valued and that the children we care for are not worth an extra few dollars in order to ensure they are in a safe and loving environment.
Even the most heinous criminal is given every benefit of the justice system without ministerial interference of any kind. I ask you, members of the committee, to delete this section of the bill and to allow justice to run its full course.
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): In your presentation, I believe you said you worked on a contractual basis with your employer?
Ms Butler: Yes.
Mr Ouellette: I don't understand. I just need to understand the situation a little more. You had difficulty with the contract, or is there something that you're arguing against within the contract itself that you have a disagreement with?
Ms Butler: Yes, there was, and when I questioned my agreement with them, I was advised that if I failed to sign the agreement I would be terminated.
Mr Ouellette: These questionings came up after you had signed the initial agreement?
Ms Butler: Yes, because the agreements had changed.
Mr Ouellette: Oh, the agreement had changed. That was something I didn't understand.
Ms Butler: Every year the agreements would change.
Mr Ouellette: I see, so every year you have to sign a new contract.
Ms Butler: Yes, and if you don't sign the contract you don't work.
Mr Ouellette: In business, I think that's a normal situation. I'm very familiar with that. I don't know if we have any time for --
The Chair: That's all. We're moving now to Mr Patten from the official opposition.
Mr Patten: Hi, Carol.
Ms Butler: Hi there.
Mr Patten: I guess this is better than nothing.
Ms Butler: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Mr Patten: Did you have to travel far?
Ms Butler: Just over an hour and a half.
Mr Patten: I hope they subsidize your travel, anyway.
By the way, we will be putting forward, at least on the opposition side, a recommendation to delete this section. The pay equity coalition made very convincing arguments. You also know the court ruling, and the minister said two days ago that she will have to consider that ruling in light of moving ahead on this section or not. It's kind of up in the air, but in any case, we will be putting forward a recommendation to delete this particular section.
I think your arguments of self-employment are quite convincing, when you have worked on your own for such a period of time and then all of a sudden it's you that has to be the contractee. I take your arguments as common sense: that you've put up your own money, set up your own arrangement and, all of a sudden, you happen to have to sign a contract for someone else and you aren't regarded as self-employed.
We don't have much time on our questions, but I'm glad to see that you were able to at least be with us today via this, even though it's not as good as being face to face. I hope at some point we'll have a chance to meet you.
Ms Butler: Thank you very much.
Mr Christopherson: Hi, Carol. Thank you for your presentation. I don't know if you know that yesterday at 9:30 we received a submission from the Equal Pay Coalition who, on page 10 of their report, talk about you, mention you and mention the specifics of what this change is all about.
Since I agree with everything you've said, I'd like to take this opportunity, through the Chair, to ask the parliamentary assistant: Bart, it's been raised twice now that this is a piece of legislation that's retroactive to January 1, 1988. You're making legislation retroactive almost 10 years. I would like to know whether or not it's accurate that this is meant specifically to capture Ms Butler's case?
Mr Maves: My understanding is that has nothing to do with Ms Butler's case.
Mr Patten: What is the reason?
Mr Maves: The home child care component is what has to do with Ms Butler's case.
Mr Christopherson: You're going to tell me it's completely coincidental?
Mr Maves: It's not just Ms Butler's case, I don't think.
Mr Christopherson: I know, but the decision, February 1, 1996, relates to the January 1, 1988, incident. You're telling me it's totally coincidental that January 1, 1988, is the exact date this is retroactive to, given the fact that legislation is rarely retroactive, let alone a decade.
Mr Maves: Because this is before the Pay Equity Commission, I really can't get into Ms Butler's case.
Mr Christopherson: You're not a minister. You can say whatever you want.
Mr Maves: I think I'm restricted because of my duties as parliamentary assistant.
Ms Butler: But you can pass legislation.
Mr Christopherson: That you're defending this legislation is absolutely correct. I've got to hear this a third time. You're telling me that it's absolutely coincidental that a piece of legislation that has nothing to do with municipal restructuring goes back almost a decade, to the day of Ms Butler's case, and that a credible, well-known organization like the Equal Pay Coalition, in addition to this individual, is making the allegation that it's specifically to go after her? You're going to deny that on behalf of the government?
Mr Maves: As I said, I can't respond directly to Ms Butler's case, Chair.
Mr Christopherson: I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you if it's coincidental that those two dates coincide.
The Chair: We're running out of time. Do you have any questions for Ms Butler?
Mr Christopherson: No. This is as close, it sounds like, that she has gotten to this government. I was trying to ask a question of one of the officials of this government on her behalf. I didn't get one either, Carol, but we'll keep going after them for you.
Ms Butler: Thank you.
The Chair: Carol, that's our time. Thank you very much, on behalf of all the members of the committee, for coming before us this afternoon. You did very well and we appreciate you taking the time to bring your advice to us.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 1189
The Chair: I'd like to now, also by teleconference, invite Mr Bill White, who is the CUPE local representative from Local 1189. Good afternoon and welcome to the standing committee on resources development. We're very glad you were able to come before us this afternoon.
Mr Bill White: Thank you, Madam Chair and members. I am very pleased and honoured to speak to you today and thank you for this opportunity. My name is Bill White. I am a city planner with the city of Owen Sound and vice-president of Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1189. That's the inside workers for the city of Owen Sound.
Owen Sound is a separated city, independent of county government, located about two hours north of Toronto on southern Georgian Bay, with a population of 21,000. Our local consists of 25 members, roughly half of the workers within city hall, with an average salary of about $26,000 per year. This includes janitorial, administration, construction supervision and some technical staff. I intend, on behalf of our members, to present our perspective on Bill 136, the perspective of a small union in a small urban municipality.
Municipalities over the last few years, even before the mandate of the current provincial government, have faced the prospect of reduced transfer payments. Cooperatively, each year union and non-union workers have worked with city council and the public to find ways to deal with continued funding reductions. This cooperation occurs for many reasons, but mainly because we care about the services we provide for our community. This is not to diminish the fact that these services are our jobs and we would like to keep them.
When I say "working cooperatively with council," I mean our staff has been involved in everything from an expenditure reduction program called OSCARS, which stands for Owen Sound Can Achieve Real Savings, to service analysis, which identifies and evaluates each service of the city, to wage rollbacks and, unfortunately, some layoffs. For our union membership, jobs have only been lost through attrition. Our members appreciate that our council has placed a value on public service and has not taken a slash-and-burn approach to service delivery. Council has also managed to keep tax increases near or below inflation for several years.
In fact, our membership appeared before council on Monday and secured unanimous support for a resolution, which I will include with my package, asking the Minister of Labour to follow through with the types of changes promised to Bill 136 last week, while consulting with labour, municipalities and communities.
Municipalities, of course, are not out of the woods yet. We hope the elimination of the municipal assistance grants and the downloading of many other services by the current government over the next year or so will be the end of the assault on our municipal budget. Lately, when we think the worst is over, we are proven wrong.
It is within these rather significant budget constraints that we face the inevitable restructuring issue. Owen Sound, like many other communities across the province, is deeply involved in restructuring talks with adjacent municipalities with the idea of saving taxpayers money. It is likely that within the next year there will be restructuring involving the city of Owen Sound. The exact form of this restructuring is not known. We expect that all or parts of several rural municipalities will amalgamate with the city as a lower tier providing certain local services within a modified county providing other, more regional services, but we really do not know for sure.
What does this mean for our membership and where will Bill 136 take our members? Being the only union employees in the administrative end of municipal work in the area -- there are unionized outside workers for the city and the county -- Bill 136 seems to say that our collective agreement remains intact for a limited time. Those workers in the amalgamated municipality who do work that is similar to ours will, in theory, become part of our membership. Depending on the number of employees as a percentage, there could be a vote as to whether the union representation is to be maintained.
Assuming union representation remains, these non-union workers achieve the benefits of our collective agreement and would gain seniority despite the fact that their years of service were in a non-union environment. This means, for example, that clerks of the smaller townships, possibly unsuccessful in their bid to be clerk of the new municipality, would have bumping rights over secretaries and administrative assistants who have served many years in a union environment.
If at any time during this transition there is a problem that cannot be resolved, there will be the Labour Relations Transition Commission to impose some sort of solution, with what we understand to be limited representation from parties.
The first collective agreement for the new municipality is to be negotiated between the new council and the new membership. If at any time any party feels the negotiations are not progressing, referral to the Dispute Resolution Commission is possible. During the time the new agreement is negotiated, members have no right to strike. This commission can also impose a solution, again, with restricted representation by affected parties. This scenario indicates as best as we can tell the possible impact of Bill 136 on a small municipality like Owen Sound.
Our membership has four potential problem areas with Bill 136 I would like to raise. These are (1) infringing autonomy; (2) unnecessary duplication; (3) lack of fairness; and (4) loss of traditional labour rights.
Infringing autonomy: You know that soon municipalities will function with little provincial financial support. Many responsibilities are to be downloaded for councils to address. We have seen this in the municipal planning field where provincial involvement in land use issues has been almost eliminated. This is apparent in transit where soon subsidies will be eliminated and municipalities free to decide on a level and form of their transit service. This is also the case with many other downloaded services.
Considering the lack of financial support, why then does this government feel the need to dictate the terms between a municipality and its employees? Because with these appointed commissions the provincial government will be able to directly dictate the contents of our collective agreement if one of the parties, probably the employer, makes a request.
It seems that if the province downloads the service and no longer pays for the service, then it should be up to the municipality to decide in cooperation with its workers how to provide the service. There are existing means to deal with contract disputes through the labour relations board which I'm sure other speakers for the labour movement have spelled out to you in detail and with which I have little familiarity.
Suffice it to say, based on the experience in Owen Sound, Bill 136 is an unnecessary infringement on our autonomy and a possible vehicle for this government to impose its own agenda on municipal service it says it will no longer provide.
Municipalities do not need any more tools to deal with amalgamation transitions. These tools exist now. Bill 136 is unnecessary in our situation. Municipalities under a population of 50,000 could be exempt from the act. The act could be repealed in its entirety.
Unnecessary duplication: Our members are not in the habit of using any board to resolve any dispute with our employer. A board is a board, but it seems to our members that to appoint two new commissions, the LRTC and DRC, with staff to deal with transition or first collective agreement disputes is a waste of money. The Ontario Labour Relations Board, by most accounts, does this work now, using set policies and procedures. To reinvent the wheel with new appointees heading these commissions strikes our members as the government trying to impose its agenda on services it gave up.
We take some comfort in the Minister of Labour's announcement last week with respect to these commissions and ask that the language that implements these promises reflect the principles the Ontario Federation of Labour requested in its alternatives to the government.
Lack of fairness: The saddest part of the bill, in the midst of all the rhetoric on commissions, right to strike, seniority and successor rights, is that no one, when they drafted this bill, thought to include one simple statement in the purpose section of the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act and the purpose statement of the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act. That statement is "fairness to the employees of the affected employer."
There are all kinds of words that refer to ability to pay, efficient transitions, prompt resolutions, and these are all really important purposes, but the lack of any mention of fairness to employees stands out like a sore thumb to my membership. These acts must include a statement that their purpose includes among all those other lofty goals fairness to employees. By not saying this, it is clear the act is not intended to be fair.
It would be even more appropriate for the purpose section to include "maintain the intent and purpose of existing collective agreements where possible." This could then be balanced out against the other purposes contained in the acts. Without mention of fairness Bill 136 comes across as an attack on workers -- workers who have to provide services the provincial government apparently cannot afford. There is no one else to download the service to. Services may be eliminated.
Loss of traditional labour rights: Seniority is important. Often it is the only way to distinguish employees with many similar positions. The fact that non-union positions in an amalgamated municipality gain automatic seniority is an insult to our members. Seniority is earned through collective bargaining year in and year out as "we," a membership. Bill 136 should not provide for automatic seniority to non-union workers.
In 25 years of representation, our local has never had a strike, rarely has filed a grievance and has never, in the 11 years I've been employed with the city, been to any third party to resolve our contract. The closest I've seen our union to participating in any strike is today. Our members cooperate and negotiate with our employer, but as a small union we have to have as our bargaining chip the right to strike. We are not essential services. Our only hope to maintain or even improve working conditions for our members is the remote possibility that we may strike if necessary. The bill clearly eliminates that right, unless the minister follows through with the changes promised last week in a manner that is acceptable to the Ontario Federation of Labour.
In the interests of time, I will not enter the privatization argument. The bill paves the way for privatization through the decisions of the commissions and through the stated purposes of the act. I firmly believe that if it comes to that, our members can provide services by a more affordable method than any private business. We have stated this to our council and they agree.
Our brothers and sisters in the other sectors, hospitals and education, will have to speak to you on their concerns. Our union executive deals with these matters on a less than part-time basis. I cannot comment in any effective way on the impact of the bill on these sectors. I hope the government sees fit to implement the promises made last week in an effective manner and to properly deal with the concerns of the other sectors.
We hope we are not facing a divide-and-conquer situation. The mandate of any government is fixed; it does not last forever. If our voices are ignored now, I am certain they will not be ignored at election time. Thank you again for this opportunity. I would be pleased to answer any questions from the committee.
Mr Patten: Good afternoon, Mr White. A couple of times during your presentation you said you hoped that the statement of the minister would follow through with the changes so you were limited to dealing with simply what was there at the moment, the existing bill. Would it have been more helpful to have the amendments based on the minister's statement to deal with, rather than speculation?
Mr White: Yes.
Mr Patten: I have a question for you because I'm supportive of unions and activities but I'm not sure if you're suggesting -- I want to give you a scenario. How much time do I have?
The Chair: About six minutes, so lots of time.
Mr Patten: If you had, let's say, two secretaries, one unionized, one non-unionized, and you're in two different municipalities that are being amalgamated, and let's say the non-union secretary had worked there for 15 years and the unionized one had worked there for five years, are you saying the unionized worker should get priority over the non-unionized worker who was there for 10 years longer?
Mr White: I'm not saying that necessarily. I guess what I'm saying is that the seniority rights for the non-union employee should be negotiated as part of the collective agreement, and how we deal with the 15-year non-union employees would be dealt with between the municipality and our local. I think you have to look at qualifications as well, as in any union.
Mr Patten: It seems to me that seniority is seniority. You look at the issue in a way and, all things being equal, it seems to me the one that has the most seniority, the one that is on the list with an extra year or two or whatever it is, if they are deemed to be good employees, they continue to work there without any qualifications or disqualifications.
Having said that, you identified the area of fairness, with which I agree. The area of fairness has been taken out of this act, as it's taken out of the act that deals with workers' compensation as well. We argued vehemently, to no avail, unfortunately, and without satisfaction in terms of the response that the use of that term is important. The minister continues to use that word, but fails to see its value in the act itself.
When you identified some of the four problems, do you anticipate that there may be some difficulties in the transit area? Did you say that was one of the things that may be a problem in Owen Sound because of the lack of funding and the possible cuts to service?
Mr White: I expect that as a result of the downloading, one of the topics around the council chambers is that transit may be one of the services that suffer.
Mr Patten: You had mentioned that your feeling was that you didn't feel the local situation required any kind of commission or board or outside body, that history showed in your region that that was there. It seems to me that in spite of whatever is put forward, that option is still there. However, if you take the original draft of the bill -- and I think, by the way, that the original draft will be sustained by the time we end up even seeing the amendments -- it does give the employer that little extra temptation in tough times to sort of utilize the hammer, as it might be called, to force a collective bargaining to arbitration or whatever, to force the process, because of the squeeze the municipality is under because of the existing loss of funds for some of their services. Would you agree with that?
Mr White: Absolutely. That's exactly our concern.
Mr Patten: Thank you very much, Mr White.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. I wanted to ask you a little different series of questions. Why do you think the government introduced Bill 136 in its current, original form? What was the purpose?
Mr White: I like to take a positive spin. I think they were looking to give some structure to a situation that is occurring across the province as far as amalgamations are concerned. I think they may in part have been responding to, say, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, which had asked for some direction. And I think partly they were aiming at police and fire contracts. Many municipalities have indicated frustration with being unable to control some of the contents of those collective agreements.
I think it goes too far and attacks memberships like ourselves that maybe don't need that same sort of control, but that's my understanding of why they might have tried to pass this.
Mr Christopherson: Quite a few of your colleagues have been in, and some more are yet to be, to make presentations. They've been suggesting that had the government met with union representatives before they introduced Bill 136, listened to the alternatives the OFL had to put forward and done the listening then that they purport to be doing now, all of this could have been avoided and we could have had a piece of legislation introduced minus the attack on pay equity, minus the attack on the employee wage protection plan, that would have achieved the needs of employers without sacrificing the rights of workers. Would you agree with that?
Mr White: I think, as in my regular job, consultation early in the process always avoids the types of problems we seem to be facing right now. Our local would have participated in whatever way we could in those types of discussions.
Mr Christopherson: It sounds to me like your local is one of the relationships that would fall into the category of the 95% plus of collective agreements that are resolved without any problem, where everything's kept locally, and quite frankly is not one of the one or two extreme examples the government likes to hold out as the reason they're going after the rights of workers. You mentioned under your category of infringing on union autonomy -- I believe that was the category, your first one -- that any party can make a request for it to go to the commission in the original law, and again that's all we've got to go by since we haven't seen the amendments. Then you said that would usually be the employer, in your opinion. Could you expand on why? Why would it be the employer?
Mr White: It goes back to the perception that this bill is somehow linked to trying to impose a privatization or a certain provincial government agenda. It's unlikely that our local would feel comfortable taking on an appointed commissioner of the provincial government, taking our chances with our collective agreement with that commission. So if an employer -- and I will certainly emphasize that our employer is not like this, but it will be an amalgamated employer. If an employer wanted to make some gains in a collective agreement, that would be the way to do it, to go to a commission that consists of what are appointees of this government with a so-called agenda towards privatization, in that they could begin through this commission to gut out any protection our workers had in a collective agreement.
Mr Christopherson: If I can, I would take it a step further. Not only would they use it to gut the gains that are in the collective agreement to pay for some of the downloading costs, but also in terms of privatization to make it more lucrative and attractive to the government's friends in the private sector who would love to buy up profitable current public sector services, privatize them, have a gutted collective agreement and make a bundle of money off of services that are currently provided for and by the public.
Mr White: Well, we've heard rumours about that sort of thing. It's a different world in Owen Sound than, say, south of the 407, but we've heard of that. It would be an awful shame if that's the intention of these people. As I said in my statement, I would put the standard and the quality of the work of our people up against anyone. I've said it to our council. I'd love to see them try and implement an OSCARS program or an expenditure reduction program like we did in a situation like that. Or I'd like to see them where our employees are staying hours and hours later than required to get work done when we've downsized. When you go to privatization, you'll pay for that, and you don't pay for it now. Our council has agreed with that. But we've heard what you said, and it is my deep hope that's not what is intended.
Mr Christopherson: A last question: The government of course now has surrendered. They've realized they can't take on this fight because there's too much public support and they can't win it, so they are caving in.
One of the concerns that labour has still is that some of the major denials of rights that are currently taken away in Bill 136 will also be transferred into the OLRB. Labour leaders have come forward and said: "We want to get rid of these commissions, and these responsibilities can go into the existing labour board, but it's got to be based on fairness, it's got to be based on equity, and it's got to be based on equality. You've got to jettison all of the things in the two commissions that deny that."
Not that I want to keep you awake at night any more than this may already be doing, but your third point was that you thought the government ought to include in the purpose clause a statement regarding fairness. We know that under the new Ontario Labour Relations Act, Bill 7, that this government brought in -- they threw out the old one -- and in the new workers' comp bill which attacks injured workers, in both of those cases this government removed the word "fair" from the purpose clauses. I'd suggest to you there's probably one hell of a fight to try and get it included in anything new they might do.
Mr White: As I said in my presentation, we do union work less than part-time and are unable to keep up with all the sorts of things you're saying, but in fact our membership picked that one out fairly quickly without having the benefit of knowing what maybe had been done with other pieces of legislation. It's a shame if that's the intent. It seems to me that fairness can be balanced out quite nicely with a lot of those other purposes in both of those parts of the act.
Mr Christopherson: Keep your eye on the ball and stay ready.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much, Mr White, for your presentation. To address a couple of your points, you said it should be up to the municipalities to collectively bargain their contracts. I would say to you that, as you know, the minister has said the Dispute Resolution Commission will be removed and replaced by the first-contract arbitration provisions that the labour movement asked for and got from the Liberal-NDP government of 1986.
But even before the government made these changes, there was an onus on both parties to collectively bargain their contracts, and the DRC couldn't hear disputes until it was satisfied that the parties had bargained, and had done so in good faith. I just wondered if you were aware that this was the case prior to the minister's announcement. And of course you were aware of the minister's announcement eliminating the DRC.
Mr White: I am certainly aware, and our membership is, that the onus is on a negotiated settlement. That's clearly in the purposes, I believe. We have every intention, and I believe our employer does, of utilizing negotiation to the best of our ability.
My concern as a part of our membership is that our council will change in an amalgamated municipality, and with the download of services and the need to find money, their perspective may change and their reason to negotiate may change. If you don't have the ability to even look at a work stoppage in that situation, our members are placed in a situation where they are unable to make any kind of impact on our employer.
Mr Maves: You also said that you believe the existing collective agreements should apply. Are you aware that this is the case? I'm reading from section 15 of schedule B, "The collective agreement, if any, that applies with respect to employees of a predecessor employer immediately before the changeover date continues to apply." So immediately upon the changeover, your existing contracts continue to apply. Are you aware of that?
Mr White: Yes, I was aware of that, but then there will be a need to negotiate a new one with the amalgamated municipalities. That's when the process kicks in. We are aware that temporarily the agreement will be in place. It will be in the interests of the employer to negotiate a new one, likely, to provide for these new employees.
Mr Maves: I have to go back to what Mr Patten said, because you had said in your presentation you don't believe the non-union workers should have seniority recognition for their years of service to the same municipality that your members had given years of service to. I have difficulties with that, as I think Mr Patten did.
The bill clearly provides for that recognition. There might have been one other CUPE union to say this, but I don't think any other unions have made a case that they shouldn't have that seniority protection. I'm surprised to hear that. I want to follow up on Mr Patten and why you would believe that, in his instance, a non-union employee with 15 years with a municipality doing the same job as a unionized employee with 10 years' seniority should be treated differently, why the years of service shouldn't be recognized equally.
Mr White: I guess it goes back to the structure of our membership, who tend to be people who are lower-paid and have not exercised any kind of supervision experience, and the types of employees we expect will come into our collective agreement. That would be employees who may have been a little higher-paid, clerks and things like that, on their own in a smaller municipality. We see that as a potential threat to our members who maybe haven't got the qualifications of those people. We would like the opportunity to negotiate how this seniority fits in.
There are also situations where these clerks are part-time people. To automatically include them, in our members' way of thinking, creates a concern. It's a particular concern to some of our lower-paid administrative staff, who face the prospect of being possibly bumped out automatically by these higher-paid clerk-treasurers who may not get the top clerk's job.
On the other hand, our members recognize that in an amalgamated municipality we may all need to compete for our jobs. What we would like is to have the right to negotiate, not automatically have people bump us out of positions.
The Chair: Mr White, thank you very much for coming before us. We do appreciate that there are different perspectives in Owen Sound and we're very glad to hear from you this afternoon.
INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS' GROUP
The Chair: We now move back to our committee room and welcome representatives from the Independent Contractors' Group, if you would come forward please, gentlemen. I see we especially welcome a former member of the Legislature.
Mr Harry Pelissero: Thank you, Madam Chairman. It's good to be back, in a different capacity. We hope to make a presentation today that takes a little bit of a different spin or perspective on Bill 136. Certainly, individuals from the association I represent are going to be affected.
With me today is Phil Besseling of Besseling Plumbing and Heating in Stoney Creek, as a unionized mechanical contractor. John Bridges is present owner of Summit Restoration, an open-shop restoration masonry contractor who used to operate in and around the Toronto area. He can certainly talk about that.
Our presentation probably won't take more than five to seven minutes, 10 minutes max. We'll leave lots of time for questions. I'd like to turn it over to Phil.
Mr Phil Besseling: I'm here today on behalf of the Independent Contractors' Group. The ICG is an organization of open-shop and unionized construction employers who work to ensure the tendering process in public sector contracts is open to all to bid and perform work.
We have been following with interest the issue of amalgamation of public sector agencies such as municipalities and school boards. The concern of the independent contractors relating to Bill 136 is what happens to those municipalities which have an open bidding process for taxpayer-funded projects and which merge with municipalities which do not have an open bidding process.
The following is taken from our brief "Freedom of Choice," which is attached for your information. Metro Toronto, amendment to section 39 of general conditions, reads:
"The Metropolitan corporation, being bound by the collective agreement between the Carpenters' Employer Bargaining Agency and the Ontario Provincial Council, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, any that is the work of the Carpenters' District Council of Toronto and Vicinity under the provision of the aforesaid collective agreement shall only be performed by an employer bound by such an agreement."
The Board of Education for the City of Windsor, general conditions, June 1990, reads:
"All electrical installation work so specified and described with the specifications on the working drawings for this project will be performed only by electrical contractors who are current members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers."
The Toronto Board of Education call for tenders February 12 and November 21, 1991, reads:
"Contractors, in order to qualify for the above work, must be in contractual relations with the Toronto-Central Building and Construction Trades Council and/or its affiliated unions."
When our members and their employees pay taxes, they are not identified as union or open shop. It should not matter when bidding on taxpayer-funded projects. We do not want to see the expansion of restrictive clauses as a result of amalgamation. Our goal is to ensure there is an open bidding process.
Think of the message this restrictive clause sends to those employees who freely choose not to belong to a union and other taxpayers. The message is: "We have set up an arbitrary barrier which gives a monopoly to international unions. We are prepared to take your tax dollars but we are not prepared to allow you to work on publicly funded projects." Imagine the unions crying "foul" or "unfair" if those same public sector agencies had a clause which allowed only open-shop contractors to bid and work. They would want, and rightly so, to demand fairness. What we are asking for is fairness in the public sector tendering process.
In closing, we would ask the committee to bring forward the necessary amendment to Bill 136 to ensure that there is an open bidding process for any taxpayer-funded project. Thank you for allowing us to share our concerns with you. We're prepared to answer any questions the committee may have.
Mr Pelissero: Before we do that, Mr Bridges has a couple of things he'd like to share with the committee.
Mr John Bridges: Madam Chairman and committee, being a small contractor principally out of the city of Toronto or southern Ontario, up until 1990 we were able to form a bid and get work with Metro and the city. Mainly we're talking about work that was done around the Canadian National Exhibition. In 1990, this was eliminated and we were no longer permitted to bid on this work as the third party had initiated a union-only competitive clause on the work that was being done down there. As this had been a lot of our work and bread and butter, we felt that this was pretty unfair; same with Scarborough Board of Education and Toronto Board of Education. I guess what we're asking for is the same level playing field where everybody can compete and bid on the same things: fair wages, conditions and work opportunity on taxpayers' dollars. Thank you.
Mr. Pelissero: We're open for questions.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. Howdy, neighbour. This is the second time we've had this come up. It came up late yesterday and I think at first a few of us were confused as to how it related to Bill 136, but I think I understand your arguments better. I'm not sure I agree but I understand them. Can I ask this: you cite Metro, the Toronto Board of Education for the City of Windsor, the Toronto Board of Education, and I think one of you mentioned Scarborough as another one, that have adopted similar policies?
Mr Pelissero: You'll see in the attached brief, Freedom of Choice, we've given you examples of restrictive clauses in almost every sector of public sector funding. Whether it's a provincial agency from the Ministry of Housing, whether it's boards of education, whether it's a municipality or it's a publicly funded agency such as John mentioned in terms of Toronto Exhibition Place, all of those agencies have a form of a clause that states that unless you are in a contractual relationship with that particular union -- Phil's employees are represented by a different union, so he's discriminated against because they "happen to belong to the wrong union."
We think with respect to public dollars that the type of organization within a firm should not be a factor when you're bidding on a job. As you say, if the shoe was on the other foot and those same agencies said, "The only way you could bid was to be non-union," I'm sure there would be the will, if not people in the streets with a placard saying: "That's unfair. That shouldn't be a factor when you're bidding."
This is all we're saying. When you're going to be amalgamating a municipality and municipalities that don't have a restrictive clause and have an open tendering process with one that does, our job is to raise it as a concern to you and suggest that as a matter of fairness -- the previous two speakers were talking about fairness -- open-shop union contractors should be able to bid and perform the work.
Mr Christopherson: Correct me if I'm wrong. There seem to be two distinct issues, one being the question of the relative fairness of passing such a policy and then secondly the issue of spreading that policy out into communities as a result of amalgamation that hadn't passed their own. Is that correct?
Mr Pelissero: Correct. Dealing with the first one, I would be surprised if in the background work I've done any of those agencies freely entered into those collective agreements. Some of them, and if I had time we could probably give you half an hour behind each one, needless to say find themselves bound to a collective agreement, in terms of working and whom they can employ for a particular job. But they're unable to extricate themselves from that collective agreement as well, because as a public sector agency they're not a member of any employer bargaining group. So there's the conundrum with respect to restrictive clauses. Again, because it's an opportunity, if you're going to be looking at merging a municipality that has a restrictive clause with a municipality that doesn't, which is going to prevail?
Mr Christopherson: Just to stay with the former -- and I appreciate your saying there are reasons why these things were enacted -- however, having sat on our own regional and city council for five years, I can tell you that on every public issue there's pressure. Some of it can be arm-twisted right up your shoulder blade and other times it's just a polite phone call or a letter, and anything short of being illegal is part of the game, part of a pluralistic society. But let me ask you: If you feel that strongly that it's wrong, we have a Constitution and a Charter of Rights. Has it been challenged? Are you questioning the legality of such a policy?
Mr Besseling: Quite frankly, we're not allowed, as an association, to challenge. We would if we could but we can't. Only as an individual --
Mr Christopherson: As you know, I'm not a lawyer. Why is that?
Mr Pelissero: Let me explain that a little further. Under the Charter of Rights you would have to be an aggrieved party. The only aggrieved party would be an employee of Phil's or an employee of John's. First of all, if there's a restrictive clause in place, most of the contractors, general contractors, subcontractors, don't bid. They haven't got the time and energy or money to prepare a bid to have it rejected. First of all they'd have to bid, have it rejected, and lay off someone as a direct result of losing that bid. Then there might be an opportunity for that to happen. I thought we had a bit of a solution from former Minister of Labour Bob Mackenzie when he identified very clearly, and I can leave you a copy of the letter, when public sector agencies under the construction section of the Labour Relations Act are deemed to be either employers or contractors.
A recent decision by the Ontario Labour Relations Board relating to a private sector matter between the Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Carpenters threw that a little bit into question. But we thought there was a solution there and we're still going to continue to pursue that. All we're saying is, from a fairness perspective, that if those same public sector agencies said the only way you could bid was to be non-union, then people would be working very hard to try and rectify that unfair situation. We're not making statements with respect to whether you should be unionized or whether you should be open shop. It shouldn't matter when you're tendering on a public sector job.
Mr Christopherson: I understand the point. Where you've got elected representatives within the law, within the Constitution, they have the right to make judgement calls. Where it's deemed to be beyond the Charter of Rights, then there are mechanisms. Again, I'm not a lawyer but I know it's not unusual -- the usual way of challenging these sorts of things is to wait for your best test case. That's what everyone does on every side of an issue. When you think you've got your best test case, you plug it into the system and you take it all away.
Mr Pelissero: I can tell you in at least one of these cases the elected officials attempted to inject an element of fairness with respect to the tendering process and lost before the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which is an unelected body, took it to a lower Divisional Court and decided not to spend any more taxpayers' money in order to try to fight.
Mr Christopherson: Was it the TD case?
Mr Pelissero: No, it was the Board of Education for the City of Windsor. They find themselves bound by a collective agreement because they've hired an electrician. A business agent comes in and says, "Because you were the direct employer and you hired a card-carrying IBEW member, therefore all future work has to be done only, electrically, by IBEW." They said, "That's crazy." They took it to the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the board upheld that decision and said, "Yes, you have to do that." They took it to a lower Divisional Court and the lower Divisional Court upheld the Ontario Labour Relations Board. So there isn't a direct route to an elected official to say, "Let's talk about an element of fairness in this exercise."
Mr Christopherson: Mind you, you can appeal the lower court decision.
Mr Pelissero: I guess the point is at what point in time, in terms of taxpayers' money, the board of education made the decision: "We're going to cut our losses. We're not prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars which should really be a commonsense issue."
Mr Christopherson: Pardon the expression.
Mr Pelissero: "Pardon the expression"? Sorry. Yes.
The Chair: We'll move now to the government caucus.
Mr Maves: Welcome, gentlemen. I didn't mind the expression being used at all.
Is there something in Bill 136 which you believe will automatically make these clauses apply to the new entity?
Mr Pelissero: I think because it's silent; our concern is because there's silence. I don't know whether anyone within the ministry or the minister's office has thought about it. They may have, but it hasn't been addressed. Construction is a bit of a unique animal with respect to labour relations anyway. Because it's silent we just felt it was necessary to come forward and hopefully highlight it so that silence doesn't mean acquiescence, therefore, hopefully, it will be addressed.
Mr Maves: I think part of what Mr Christopherson was pursuing was that if Metro Toronto or a board of education or any other municipality is passing bylaws governing tenders or conditions --
Mr Pelissero: They're not passing bylaws. Once they become bound by a collective agreement, the verbiage that you see has to appear in all their tendering documents. This is why, in terms of launching a court case, most of our members would not bid on those jobs because they know they're going to be rejected. In terms of time, energy and money, to prepare a bid to have it rejected, there just isn't the opportunity or the dollars available to do that.
Mr Maves: So under current labour relations law, if I as a municipality use unionized electricians for a job, I'm bound forevermore to use --
Mr Pelissero: It depends. It's not a straight answer.
Mr Besseling: If the municipality were to hire IBEW electricians directly, they would be. If the municipality hires an electrical contractor who is the employer, then they are not. That goes back to our earlier comment about deeming the municipality an employer, or in actual fact a buyer of construction services. There's that distinction and that's where the problem is.
Mr Pelissero: I'll read into the record for you, and I'll leave you a copy for the clerk, a letter dated May 6, 1994. It's addressed to Hugh O'Neil, who was the MPP of Quinte at the time, who had raised on our behalf a question with the then minister, Bob Mackenzie, of this particular issue. I just want to take time to read two paragraphs and get it into the record. It says:
"The second type of situation can arise as a result of the following circumstances. Unionized employers in the industrial-commercial-institutional (ICI) sector of the construction industry are covered by legislation requiring province-wide collective agreements. If a province-wide ICI agreement is to apply to institutions such as school boards or municipalities, both of the following conditions must hold: (1) a building trade union must have obtained bargaining rights for the construction work performed by the institution; and (2) that institution has to be acting as its own construction contractor by directly engaging employees to perform the construction work.
"Provided condition (1) in the previous paragraph is satisfied" -- in other words, there's a collective agreement in place in the institution -- "it is then important to note that the underlined phrase in the second point, 'acting as its own construction contractor,' namely, the critical issue becomes whether the institution is acting strictly as a construction purchaser, (ie an owner-client), or whether the board's actions make it a construction contractor. If the institution is acting as an owner-client (by taking an arm's-length approach to the actual carrying out of the construction work), then it is not likely to be considered a construction employer. In that instance, the ICI collective agreement does not apply to the institution for that project, and any subcontracting provisions in the ICI collective agreement would not be binding when the institution puts out that construction project to tender. On the other hand, if the institution decides to take a more direct hand in overseeing the project, eg, to the extent of engaging and supervising workers on the construction site, then the ICI collective agreement likely appears and any subcontracting clauses in that agreement would be applicable."
We thought this was great; this was fantastic, "The Minister of Labour, Bob Mackenzie, has given us an answer." We put out a press release. Unfortunately, no municipality or board of education that was bound by a collective agreement was prepared to take the risk that they would be challenged before the Ontario Labour Relations Board with respect to that interpretation. We've had a couple of lawyers who have said that basically whoever drafted this for the minister either knew what they were saying or they went a little too far in terms of providing an answer. We may be talking about a situation that doesn't exist if the Ontario Labour Relations Board or somebody within the Ministry of Labour were to rule that what then-Minister Bob Mackenzie said is still going to hold today.
If that's the case, no municipality or public sector agency ever again would act as in the first situation with respect to being an employer. They would always do the arm's-length transaction as being an owner-client and then they'd be free to accept tenders or bids from everyone. If that's the case, we'll go home now. We're not convinced that is 100% right and we'd like it in writing from the Ontario Labour Relations Board or the Minister of Labour or somebody to say that is in fact the case. I'll leave you copies of this letter.
Mr Maves: Coming here before the hearings on Bill 136, what fix do you think is possible through Bill 136?
Mr Pelissero: Take the minister's interpretation of May 1994 and apply it to the new scenario. If that's the case, then any public sector agency that's bound by a collective agreement acting as an owner-client will not be bound by the collective agreement. Then, with respect to Mr Christopherson's point of view, it forces that public sector agency to make a conscious decision as to whether they're going to restrict who is allowed to bid on that job.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much.
The Chair: To the Liberal caucus.
Mr Patten: I wouldn't mind a copy of that, Harry, because I'm not sure I understood it all totally but I'm beginning to see the argument. As I mentioned, last night we had Dave McDonald from Kenaidan Contracting and Don Cameron of the Ontario General Contractors -- I don't know if it's an association -- who made this point, and in your presentation it sort of clarified things. What's the status at the provincial level at the moment? In other words, if you wanted to bid on a contract, some kind of job to build a building or whatever it was for the provincial government, would you have those same limitations?
Mr Besseling: No. The province has no restrictive clauses.
Mr Patten: That was my understanding, because I was Minister of Government Services at one point. We said, "Listen, any bona fide business that is geared to the particular task at hand is eligible," and we tried to encourage; we didn't ask whether they were unionized or not unionized. If you were, fine, we looked at what you offered, the basis of the RFP and that sort of thing.
I think you have an issue where most Ontarians would want to see any Canadian company, regardless, have a fair crack at business, especially knowing that it's business coming out of their tax pocket. The mechanism for it, as a non-lawyer I'm not sure. I suppose if you had a recommended amendment to the legislation ready at hand to put forward, then that could be tabled. If the government side readily appreciates your point of view -- and I want you to know I do -- then that might give you a greater probability of success.
Mr Pelissero: Richard, if you look to the four pages -- it's been handed out -- particularly the second page where I've asterisked it, the minister then went through the scenarios and said the provincial government does not have restrictive clauses. We cited a situation with the Ministry of Housing. At that time the provincial government said: "We don't interfere with that. It's an arm's-length transaction to us. It's a public sector agency that's receiving tax dollars and they have a restrictive clause in place." That's wrong, and if you needed wording with respect to an amendment, I'd take the then minister's words and put them in the form of an amendment to the bill with respect to the tendering process.
Mr Patten: This is where you've started?
Mr Pelissero: That's correct. With respect to what Mr Maves was saying in terms of, where is it in the legislation? Well, it isn't. If we need to add to it with respect to tendering of construction projects, that would be a new section. Just take the verbiage from the then minister and maybe the same letter-writers who were at the ministry may be there now today. Nothing really changes much; it's just the people at the top change. That might be an appropriate approach. Been there, done that, Madam Chair.
The Chair: I know.
Mr Patten: With the rearrangements, while the province has the overall authority for official plans and municipal affairs, as you can see, the municipalities will be less dependent, economically at least, on provincial funding. You can see that particular trend. Whether something would have to also be included in the Municipal Act in terms of areas of fairness -- it seems to me a court ruling would be the fastest way. I'm surprised the labour relations board would carry weight. You showed this letter when you went to the Divisional Court?
Mr Pelissero: No, this letter came after what happened at the city of Windsor. We've been told informally that a private sector business attempted to use this argument before the labour relations board, and basically the labour relations board said the minister didn't know what he was talking about. We've been told that informally. So they didn't put a lot of stock in the minister's letter. We do in the sense that it makes eminent sense in the sense that if they're going to employ directly, then you're bound by the collective agreement. If you're not, that comes back to forcing the municipality or the public sector agency to make a determination with respect to whether they want fairness in the tendering process.
Mr Patten: You should have brought Bob Mackenzie with you today.
Mr Pelissero: He might not have been willing to appear with us. I'm not sure. But we appreciate the opportunity we've had to share this.
In another example, there is under the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations the Discriminatory Business Practices Act, which does not allow you to discriminate based on geography. We've used that successfully with the board of education. We're attempting to implement a geography-restrictive clause in the sense that they were only going to entertain bids from contractors within that geographic area that had a mailing address there. When we pointed out that was contradictory to the act, the Ministry of Education said, "We're not going to flow dollars if you pass that particular clause."
Mr Patten: This sounds like it's going to hit about half a dozen ministries at some point. I appreciate your point and I agree with it.
Mr Pelissero: I think it's fixable.
Mr Patten: Yes, I think so too. We'll have to work on that one. Thank you very much.
The Chair: With that, gentlemen, we thank you very much. Yes, we know you've been around this. We can tell. You've got a very direct and forthright manner and we appreciate you and your colleagues taking the time to come before us this afternoon.
Mr Pelissero: Thank you for the opportunity.
Mr Christopherson: If we asked him questions, he would show us how well he could skate.
The Chair: Colleagues, we now move to the teleconferencing again, and we're back in Kincardine. It appears the first presenters we were expecting to hear from in Kincardine are unable to join us, so we're just checking to find out if the group from the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition is present in Kincardine.
Mr Christopherson: Can I ask a question? Obviously this is a Hamilton group. Why would they have to drive all the way to Kincardine? They probably drove farther to Kincardine to be on cyberspace than if they'd driven to Queen's Park and made a presentation here in real life. If we don't know, I'll ask them, but I find it kind of curious.
The Chair: I'm sure on short notice there were a number of challenges in trying to fill the scheduling. Maybe the clerk has something to add to that.
Mr Christopherson: I thought the government said this is just the usual process. Why are we having so much trouble?
Mr Maves: It's a new process.
Mr Christopherson: So you're admitting finally it's an extraordinary process.
The Chair: I think it's fair to say this is a new process. I think we're all very clear about it. My understanding is we've only used teleconferencing once before, and that was in the justice committee.
Mr Christopherson: So you're talking about the teleconferencing is new.
The Chair: This is a new process --
Mr Christopherson: Let me remind you, Chair, so is the time frame a new process.
The Chair: There are a number of elements that are new, Mr Christopherson, and I know the clerk's office has been working hard to accommodate --
Mr Christopherson: None of this is an attack on them. They're working under incredible circumstances. It's the government that's got to answer for this.
The Chair: I think everyone's been trying to do their best. It's my impression --
Mr Christopherson: Everyone except the government.
The Chair: -- is that we don't have presenters ready just yet from Kincardine, so my suggestion is we call a recess and reconvene at 5:20.
The committee recessed from 1656 to 1724.
HAMILTON-WENTWORTH HEALTH COALITION
The Chair: We are connecting again by way of teleconferencing to south Bruce. We now have representatives from the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition. We're very pleased to welcome you before the committee this afternoon.
Ms Brenda Johnson: My name is Brenda Johnson and sitting here with me is Joanne Webb. We're here representing the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition
The Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition is a partner of the Ontario Health Coalition. We're made up of community organizations, local unions and individuals. We are non-profit and non-partisan. The Ontario Health Coalition is composed of 80 member groups, including seniors, women, low-income and homeless people, aboriginal people's organizations, ethnic and multiracial minorities, unions, service providers, psychiatric survivors' groups, people with HIV/AIDS and many others.
The Ontario Health Coalition is linked as the provincial component to the Canadian Health Coalition and provides provincial coordination of community-based health coalitions such as ourselves.
The primary goal is to empower the members of our constituent organizations to become actively engaged in the making of public policy on matters related to health care and healthy communities. We seek to provide member organizations and the broader public with ongoing information about their health care system and its programs and services.
Through public education and support for public debate, we contribute to the maintenance of a system of checks and balances essential to caring communities and a democratic society. The development of local coalitions within a province-wide network assists communities to work in cooperation with those in other parts of the province to share resources and information and to work independently on their own issues.
We are committed to maintaining and enhancing our publicly funded, publicly administered health care system and we believe that the principles of the Canada Health Act must be honoured and strengthened.
We would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to present to you today. However, we also wish to voice our outrage at the process.
First, it is understood that the Minister of Labour has apparently made several amendments to this legislation which we have had no opportunity to see or review. While we may very well support these amendments, we find it very frustrating and confusing to be presenting on proposed legislation which we have had no opportunity to review and evaluate. Therefore, we are demanding that we be given a further opportunity to present on the amended bill when we've had the opportunity to review it.
As we understand the schedule, the Legislature will begin clause-by-clause reading of the amended Bill 136 on Monday, September 29. Prior to this date, no one will actually have the opportunity to see the amendments. The Legislature could, we understand, pass this bill as early as Wednesday, October 1. This is totally unacceptable.
Second, this government has promised province-wide hearings. This has not been the case. We are here today presenting by teleconference from Kincardine. We had to drive for four and a half hours to present here when we were 40 minutes from you in Toronto. Is this province-wide hearings, for organizations such as ourselves to drive halfway across the province to appear to represent that geographic area? Full province-wide hearings with preparation time and a copy of the actual legislation being proposed are essential if this government really has any intention of hearing from the people of Ontario.
Bill 136 is a major blow for patient care. The Harris government claims this bill is necessary to assist public sector employers dealing with staffing issues that result from mergers of hospitals and school boards and the downloading of provincial services on to municipalities, and that it will ensure public services are not disrupted during restructuring. In addition, we are told Bill 136 will increase levels of efficiency even though funding levels will continue to decrease.
Our view is the opposite: Bill 136 is really an attempt to decrease wages and benefit levels of staff upon whom the public rely and to overload those remaining with even more responsibilities. We currently have the best-qualified, committed health care workers in this province. Our health care workers average only $28,000 a year, including benefits. This makes them among the lowest-paid employees. This bill would say that they are overpaid? Over the last five years, we have seen a reduction of 20% in staffing levels in the health care system. We are already seeing the effects of those cuts. Bill 136 will only lead to even worse care in public hospitals and facilities and longer waits for those of us who need crucial access to those health services.
We must also remember that we have yet to see all the devastating effects of the restructuring commission's decisions to close and merge hospitals, the downloading, decreased funding levels. How can we continue to cut without stopping to see where we are, what these actions have already cost us in health services and in lives?
Our health care workers are also 90% female. It makes me as a woman very angry that this government is directly attacking the women of this province. Not only is this legislation going to put many women out of a job, but those who remain will have significantly lower wages and fewer, if any, benefits. Add to that the fact that women are still the main family caregivers, and the downloading of so many health care services on to the families will have devastating impacts on women's lives and their families.
In addition, the concerns around day care: This is again mainly a concern and responsibility of women. How can someone earning $7 or $8 an hour afford good day care for their children? How can a woman work and look after ill loved ones and have to worry about the care her children are receiving?
We are also likely to see standards of patient care drop even further as unions become increasingly muzzled in dealing with vital patient issues such as staffing levels, the availability of appropriate equipment, and health and safety standards in these institutions.
For those who cherish a quality public health system, this proposed legislation will smooth the transfer of huge sections of public services to the private sector. Privatization is a major concern of the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition. Privatization also means less accountability, less choice, less input, less standards and higher costs. It also means health care will be a business, an industry. In Hamilton, we used to have five acute care hospitals; now we have two. Four hospitals have now been merged into the Hamilton Health Science Corp. They will not even be called a hospital. The CEO insists on it being referred to as "the corporation." This is the current picture of health care. It will only worsen under this legislation and the present direction of the government of this province. The privatization of our public sector and the reduction of the quality of health care and the quality of life was not the mandate given to this government.
This bill has far-reaching implications for all patients and consumers of health services. The one-sided interference, arbitrariness and lack of an impartial due process should be of concern to all citizens who favour democratic rights and basic fairness as the government attempts to silence the most vigorous voices in defence of public health care.
The purpose clause of Bill 136 is also of concern to the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition. The purpose clause states "to encourage best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers." "Best practices" compares the wages and working conditions of health care and other public sector workers with the wages and working conditions of workers who do not have adequate wages and benefits. As stated earlier, health care workers are already some of our lowest-paid workers. They are also highly qualified to do their jobs and committed to providing the best patient care. We know these qualifications and commitments will not be there when unqualified, low-paid, stressed, worried and overloaded workers are put into these jobs as the areas are privatized.
"Best practices" has also been used to compare costs of services in one workplace with the cost of services in another workplace. Money should not be the overriding factor for change. Cheaper is not better.
I have heard it said that this is an anti-union bill. This is not just an anti-union bill. This is an anti-worker bill. It's an anti-women bill. This bill is an anti-consumer bill and it's certainly an anti-democracy bill.
While the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition is largely concerned with the hospital sector, we cannot ignore the other effects Bill 136 will have on the health of our communities. Privatization of the public sector will affect our drinking water, highways, environmental monitoring stations, ambulance services, firefighters, police services, detention centres, sanitation, transit and many other areas. All of these affect our health.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Health Coalition believes that social and economic issues are health issues. Full employment at decent wages, housing, a strong social safety net, a healthy diet, a clean environment and safe workplaces are all necessary to ensure good health. All of these will suffer severely under Bill 136.
In conclusion, we feel that Bill 136 is an attack on everyone in this province. This bill should not be amended. We demand that it be withdrawn. I would like to state again that I find this process just -- there are no words for me right now to say how I feel about sitting here and looking at almost all empty chairs. I just feel that on such an important issue as this there should be people sitting at that table listening. We're speaking on behalf of many members of the community and they deserve to be heard. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I can only say to you that while we aren't in the same room, we have been listening very carefully to what you've been saying. You have left us plenty of time for questions. We'll begin with the government caucus, with about six minutes per caucus.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): Good afternoon. I would like to begin my questions to you by asking the Hamilton health coalition, what were your views or opinions on Bill 136 prior to the minister's announcement last week?
Ms Johnson: I believe I speak for both of us when I say it's extremely large legislation and very difficult to understand. But our immediate thought was that it needs to be withdrawn, that it's totally unacceptable legislation. We shouldn't even be here talking about amendments. It just needs to be totally thrown out.
Mr Newman: So you're totally against Bill 136.
Ms Johnson: That's right, we're totally against Bill 136.
Mr Newman: What are your views or the views of your coalition with respect to amalgamations of school boards, municipalities and hospitals in general?
Ms Johnson: We believe that no hospital should be closed. We believe that there are negotiations and proper methods to sit and deal with the issues around restructuring.
Mr Newman: So amalgamations are possible?
Ms Johnson: We would have to actually sit and see, actually have that scenario. I'm not comfortable saying yes or no on that question without more information.
Ms Joanne Webb: We also believe that all Canadians should participate in health care decision-making, that we should be heard, and we're not being heard. We do not believe that the public and communities are being heard at this time.
Mr Newman: The reason I asked the question is that yesterday we had a presentation from the Ontario Hospital Association and they used an example from your community of Hamilton. I'm going to quote from their presentation to you, so I'm reading directly from their presentation:
"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 of the employees."
So we have a situation in your community where the Ontario Hospital Association says Bill 136 or its equivalent is needed. Can I have your thoughts on that specific situation, the thoughts of the Hamilton health coalition? I think it's a fair question.
Ms Johnson: That's something I feel could certainly be dealt with in discussions with those involved. I don't think we need a bill such as 136 that's going to affect an entire province to deal with those issues. If you have the right arbitrator who can sit down with those groups, I don't feel there's probably any reason for such a bill. I think it could certainly be dealt with. The opportunity should certainly be presented for that.
Ms Webb: In the past we certainly have been able to negotiate programs and decisions between the unions and the hospitals on our own. Why now do we have to have the government telling us how we are supposed to do that process? We already have a process.
Mr. Newman: The reason I ask is that they go on to give a second example. In 1986 the Toronto Hospital was formed through the merger of Toronto Western and Toronto General. "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" -- the Canadian Union of Public Employees -- "still refuses to combine its bargaining units."
In other words, if a carpenter was needed at the Western site, they couldn't take a carpenter from the old TGH site. They had to go and hire another carpenter, because the carpenters weren't allowed to go between the two sites. There's an example that 11 years down the road they still had not been able to resolve those differences. People are telling us that some sort of legislation is needed, as has happened in other provinces. I believe Saskatchewan and PEI and another province which I can't recall right now -- BC -- have had legislation in place for hospitals to deal with those types of issues through restructuring.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your presentation. Just briefly, your coalition is made up of which employees?
Ms Johnson: It's a coalition of many different member groups. We have several community groups. We also are made up of several unions. We have CUPE, OPSEU, CAW, Steelworkers, SEIU, ONA and UFCW.
Mr Patten: I just wanted to get a bit of a feel for who makes up your body.
Did you have a chance to hear about the OHA's release today on the impact of the existing cuts to hospitals, and in particular the CIBC report? I haven't read the complete report other than what was reported in the House today. It showed a significant impact upon quality of care with some of the kinds of pressures that you identified before, Brenda, on workers and the cuts to staff and the increase in stress and things of that nature. Did you get a chance to hear about that today? There was another firm that did it. These are independent reports that the Ontario Hospital Association asked be done.
Ms Johnson: Unfortunately, no, we have not had a chance to see that report. We have actually been on the road since noon today on our way here.
Ms Webb: I can tell you from my own personal -- I am a hospital worker and I've seen cutbacks in the hospital. Yes, we are overworked. There have been cutbacks going on in these hospitals for five years, and there are people who were doing one job and now are doing two and three jobs, and in shorter times Their times have been cut back to part-time employment and they're doing more work. Yes, they are overworked. This bill will leave it open to privatization, and getting cheaper workers is not going to make them do less work. They are going to be doing more work at cheaper --
Mr Patten: I understand. I receive calls and letters in my own office saying the same sort of thing, and also some of my ex-colleagues, because I had some affiliation with a children's hospital in the Ottawa area.
We had asked -- as a matter of fact I'd personally asked the minister in the House -- if she would consider withdrawing the bill on the supposition that it was so affected by her statement of what would be addressed and the changes to be addressed were so fundamental to the bill that it really warranted, at least in my opinion, and I think others may share it, withdrawing Bill 136 and redrafting a piece of legislation that everybody could see before hearings, or before we got into finalization of a bill. However, she chose to not accept my wise advice and we're here now listening to amendments to this particular bill without the amendments from the government. As you had said yourself, we won't see those.
By the way, once those amendments are submitted by 10 o'clock next Monday, we will not have any chance to discuss them. And those amendments are not amendable. In other words, let's say the government, for the sake of argument, puts forward something that you know might be a reasonable amendment but we have some problems with it and we think we can ameliorate it and improve it, the government side cannot even entertain an amendment to what they propose, which shows you how tight this process is. I think that's undemocratic and is not in the spirit of how hearings and committees should be able to operate. Usually they don't operate on this basis. This is a special case of time allocation that the government has imposed.
You identified a whole variety of areas that you said were an attack on women, and we'd have to agree with the concerns around day care workers. The pay equity section is up for grabs because the minister said she's not sure which way she's going to go now because of the court ruling. There's the worry about the privatization, the statement in the purpose portion of the bill which talks about best practices and ability to pay, and those kinds of things. We agree that at the end of the day, looking at it from your point of view, or anyone's, when you look at it from the point of view of working women and lower-paid working women, this is certainly not supportive at best and, you might say, easily interpreted as an attack, which is most unfortunate.
Ms Johnson: I think there is really nothing of any benefit that we can see in the bill. As you have said, something as important as this, that's affecting so many people, certainly deserves much more time. The public needs to see, as you said, what the amendments are, what exactly we're here to talk about. We can sit here and talk all day but we don't know what we're talking about until we see those amendments on Monday and have the time to really look at them and how they translate into reality.
Mr Christopherson: I want to pick up a bit on a couple of things you've raised so we can expand on them. Number one, I want you to know that this whole nonsense of you having to drive all that way up there to sit in a stark room and stare at a TV camera was solely the idea of the government. This is their version, just to have you know --
Mr Maves: It's not true. It's partly scheduling that's --
Mr Christopherson: The whole concept, the whole part of the process of doing the teleconferencing was your idea. The opposition parties rejected it. Your minister made a promise that she'd travel the province and she broke that promise. This whole teleconferencing thing was your idea to try and cover up the fact that you broke your promise and refused to go out on the road.
Mr Maves: You make it sound like we're making them drive.
The Chair: Order.
Mr Christopherson: I've said before and I'll say it again: You're a bunch of cowards. You're afraid to go out and face people. That's why you're here. You're here nice and safe and quiet.
Mr Maves: What were you on the social contract? Oh, you don't like to talk about that.
The Chair: Colleagues, order, please.
Mr Christopherson: You've got all your guards. You don't have to face the public. The fact of the matter is --
The Chair: Excuse me, Mr Christopherson. One moment, please. Colleagues, I must remind you that because we are undertaking teleconferencing the voices don't travel if one is going over another. We can only allow one person to speak at a time and Mr Christopherson has the floor.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Chair. This process was the government's idea, and so was the teleconferencing. I want to be very clear that this is not our idea of travelling the province and giving people a chance to look their lawmakers in the eye and make presentations. I find it absolutely ludicrous that people from a major urban centre like ours in Hamilton would have to drive three times the distance to go on a teleconferencing system, rather than just coming here to Toronto if we couldn't hold hearings in Hamilton, which is the way it ought to have been in the first place.
Secondly, in terms of process, you should know that the details -- it's as bad as you think and worse. We wrap up these hearings tomorrow at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. By Monday morning at 10 o'clock we have to have our amendments in. We get the final research report from our researchers, who compile all the presentations that have been made to us, at 9 o'clock Monday morning, and by 10 o'clock we have to have our amendments in, in legalese.
I'll also say, when you talk about not knowing what you're talking about in terms of not seeing the legislation, we have government backbenchers here who don't even know what they're defending either, because all we've got is words from the minister; we have no amendments.
I liked your idea. You're the first one to put it quite that starkly, Brenda, to say that the government ought to give us a chance to have input into the amended bill because there are so many changes to the existing 136. I want to ask the parliamentary assistant, through the Chair, if his government is open to allowing people to have input on the amended 136.
The Chair: Mr Maves?
Mr Maves: What's his question? I didn't hear that.
The Chair: Do you want to ask that after we finish questioning the presenters?
Mr Christopherson: I think they want to hear it. This is a sham hearing anyway, and you know it, Bart. I think this is a question they'd like to ask you. They raised it. You haven't addressed it yet and I want to give you a chance. Are you prepared to allow people to make submissions to your amended Bill 136, given that you're completely gutting it and rewriting it?
Mr Maves: No, the time allocation motion doesn't allow for hearings after the amendments.
Mr Christopherson: There you go, see? He hides behind a motion that they rammed through with their majority. That's why they can't do it. This whole thing is a sham.
The Chair: Mr Christopherson, do you have questions for the presenters?
Mr Christopherson: I think I'm facilitating the presenters when I ask the parliamentary assistant key questions that they've raised.
I also want to mention that one of the biggest threats facing us in Hamilton right now is the possibility of losing one or maybe two hospitals as a result of the health restructuring commission report. Please comment on that. Let people know what's happening in Hamilton in terms of how people feel about the idea of losing St Joe's or Henderson or Chedoke-McMaster.
Ms Johnson: People are just devastated at the fact that we could be losing one of our hospitals. Like everywhere, we already have long waiting lines. There's concern about the emergency situation and where you can go to get acute care. We've recently lost the maternity at one of our hospitals already, before that commission has even sent a report. That's already creating problems for women in where they're going to go to deliver their babies, what doctor works in what hospital.
Everybody's on edge waiting for a decision. What is that going to mean? What about the families? Are they going to have a right to go to the hospital they choose? We have a Catholic hospital, and there are issues around that. It's just incredible. You put that all together with the funding cuts and it's a very difficult time. People have a lot of concerns about the services and where those services will be located, the type of health care. If one of those hospitals closes, that's going to have a tremendous impact on the community.
Ms Webb: I just want to add, on the movement of the maternity from Henderson to McMaster, that we had a very efficient system up there of ordering blood work, of doing everything. From people I've talked to who have moved over there with the program, they've gone back to a system they were using 15 years ago. How is that efficient? How is that saving money? It's totally outrageous.
I just get mad at this whole system. They're telling us we're supposed to be saving money, and as health care workers we do not see the savings. We've asked over and over again to be part of the decision-making, and we never are. We're left out. The only people who are going to be hurt are people like me and her and anybody else who goes into a hospital. My sister, my brothers, my grandchildren, my parents, that's who's losing -- the people of Ontario.
Ms Johnson: I'd also like to comment on a few other things you said, Dave, regarding the question of whether or not we'll be allowed to present again when we've seen the amended bill. I feel like we've driven all this way and we've never actually had the opportunity to present on behalf of the coalition, because we're really presenting on a phantom bill that we've never seen.
We know there are many amendments. We're active with the health coalition, but we haven't had the opportunity, through the unions, to see those amendments. We have no idea. We've heard what the media are presenting about the right to strike, but on many issues on the impact of that bill we're totally in the dark about what those amendments are. Again, we can only demand that opportunity on behalf of all the members represented by our coalition. This is going to severely affect our health and our lives, and we in a democratic society certainly have some right to know that legislation and to speak on it and be aware of the issues before it's passed like that. That's just incredible.
Joanne and I were wondering if maybe the promise to hold province-wide hearings was that the presenters should be province-wide, because we certainly feel like we have seen this province this afternoon.
Mr Christopherson: Don't offer them any suggestions; they'll use them. Thank you very much for all your efforts. We'll do everything we can to carry your message at this end.
The Chair: On behalf of the members of the committee, we thank you for coming before us this afternoon. I want to tell you there are seven members of the Legislature here listening to you and about 14 or 15 people in the room. We have been listening intently. We appreciate your efforts and we thank you on behalf of the Legislature for coming before us this afternoon.
Ms Johnson: Again, though, we would like the opportunity to speak on the amendments.
The Chair: We understand. Thank you. Bye for now.
Colleagues, that's our final presenter this afternoon, so we'll recess and reconvene this evening at 7 o'clock.
The committee recessed from 1758 to 1900.
THUNDER BAY AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL
The Chair: We begin with our first presenter this evening, Evelina Pan, representing the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council. Evelina is joining us from Thunder Bay by way of teleconferencing. Evelina, good evening. Can you hear me and see us?
Ms Evelina Pan: Yes, I can hear and I can see. I must tell you that this is the first time I've ever done this. It'll be an experience.
The Chair: It looks very good from here. Just to let you know, there are probably about 14 or 15 people in this room. There are eight members of the Legislature here listening to you.
Mr Christopherson: How many members of the public?
The Chair: I can't determine that.
Mr Christopherson: None. Be honest.
The Chair: I'm not sure --
Ms Pan: Were the public invited?
The Chair: The standing committee hearings are open to the public, yes.
Ms Pan: Were the public in Thunder Bay informed?
Mr Christopherson: No.
The Chair: We don't invite members of the public to the standing committees, but they are open to the public. This will also be televised, so that you know. Anyway, we're going to get under way. As I'm sure you know, you have 30 minutes for your presentation time. You may use all that time for presentation or you may allow time for questions. Again, welcome, and please begin.
Ms Pan: I appreciate the opportunity to make this presentation here tonight, which I'm doing as president of the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council. While we appreciate the opportunity to make our views known, we really strongly protest the lack of notice given for these hearings here in Thunder Bay. It's absolutely frightening to think that the government of the largest province in this country is so incapable of even the simplest planning chores that it cannot give groups more than a day's notice of hearings on an issue so important to the future of our province. It's shameful. It's truly shameful.
That's probably one of the most obvious flaws of the Harris Tory government, that there is no thought given to the ramifications of government actions. The government says it wants to hear from the people of Ontario, and yet it crams two days of legislative work into one calendar day, which has the effect of limiting debate by the elected members of Parliament. Then it tries to stifle the true voice of the province by scheduling hearings on Bill 136 for a measly four days, and exclusively in Toronto. Only because of massive public pressure are hearings being held outside of Toronto, but with no lead time for deputations to properly prepare a response to one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation to hit the floor of any Legislature in Canada.
This is a government that doesn't bother to hide its contempt for the men and women who devote their working lives and volunteer time to improve the quality of life for everyone in the province. Remember that. We want you to know that whatever amount of contempt the Premier and his cronies hold us in, growing numbers of people in Ontario are seeing more clearly as the days go by how vicious and how anti-human the Harris Tory government is. And believe me, we will remember.
We've had Tory governments before. Bill Davis's government was Tory, but obviously not spiteful enough for Mike Harris, because within months of taking office they repealed legislation that was introduced by the Bill Davis government, some of which dated back more than 20 years.
We've had Liberal governments, for example, under David Peterson. While we in the labour and the social justice movements had our differences with their government as well, we still recognize and appreciate that they were the ones who brought in pay equity legislation, which Bill 136 will destroy.
And we had an NDP government under Bob Rae which brought in some legislation beneficial to workers, but which also brought us the infamous social contract, which I believe is the toe in the door to the inhumane and devastating changes that this pathetic excuse of a government is busy imposing on the people of Ontario, starting with the weakest and the most vulnerable -- mothers on social assistance -- continuing along with workers who have been injured on the job, and now attacking people working in the broader public sector. That includes people such as teachers, firefighters and police.
Bill 136 will create chaos in the province. The closing of dozens of hospitals across the province and the forced merger of many others, the unwanted amalgamation of cities and school boards, and the cutting and downloading of provincial services can only generate massive disruption. The accompanying job loss and service cuts can only breed frustration and conflict.
The Dispute Resolution Commission and the Labour Relations Transition Commission will be made up of whom? People appointed by cabinet. And to whom would they be responsible, to whom would they be accountable? No one but their masters, the Harris government. Cute, isn't it?
In spite of some of the amendments proposed in the House last Thursday by Minister of Labour Elizabeth Witmer, the employer's ability to pay still remains part of Bill 136. Over the years, impartial arbitrators have ruled that employer ability to pay cannot be a consideration, and yet this government thumbs its nose at the collective wisdom of jurisprudence and case law in this province. The commissioners for both of those commissions will have sweeping arbitrary powers which violate any pretence of due process. Some of the powers include the ability to limit witnesses, to hold or to not hold a hearing, to require written submissions, to set the length of both oral and written submissions, to stop one side in the dispute from access to information that it thinks it should have, and to decide other matters that it deems necessary. We could go on.
It even has the right to set its own policies governing dispute settlements regardless of the positions of the parties to the dispute. Its decisions can impact every collective agreement in the province, whether or not the parties are even in collective bargaining negotiations at the very time that the commission makes its decision. Employers can use the Labour Relations Transition Commission, but unions can't oppose this, and unions can't appeal their rulings no matter how biased they may be. Let me just remind you that with cabinet appointees determining our future, the rulings aren't likely to be in our favour.
Should Bill 136 be passed as initially drafted, people working in the broader public sector in Ontario would have no right to free collective bargaining, no right to a hearing, no right to a representative at hearing, no right to hear employers' evidence, no right to counter employers' evidence, no say in the method of dispute resolution and no right of appeal. Very democratic.
The cities of Port Arthur and Fort William amalgamated in 1970 to form the city of Thunder Bay. We didn't need those kinds of draconian measures to come up with a resolution on the structure of the new city of Thunder Bay, so why introduce Bill 136?
It's clear that the prime reasons for introducing this piece of legislation are (1) to pay for the Harris government's tax cut for wealthy Ontarians on the backs of those who can least afford it; (2) to prepare for the massive privatization of the public sector; (3) to create a downsized, low-wage broader public sector which will function to drag down private sector wages; (4) to attack the democratic rights of working people and their unions which stand against the government's policies and which are able to actively mobilize against them.
I'm quite certain that I speak for the entire labour movement in outlining the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council's position to Bill 136. We're not rejecting this bill just because we're ornery folks or just because we want to be critical, because we do have a positive alternative.
Restructuring has taken place in Ontario and other provinces across the country through free collective bargaining. Free collective bargaining and democratic political activities are the only fair and effective ways of resolving restructuring issues in the workplace. Ontario's broader public sector employees and the unions which represent them believe there are alternatives to Bill 136 which would preserve fundamental rights, protect democratic principles and safeguard the fairness and integrity of the arbitration and adjudication process. Some of these alternatives would include:
(1) Preserving free collective bargaining for employees affected by broader public sector restructuring. Free collective bargaining has proven over the decades to be the only fair and effective way of resolving issues arising from both public and private sector restructuring.
(2) Maintaining the right to strike and, for workers in essential services, preserving independent and impartial -- not government appointment, but independent and impartial -- arbitration instead of imposing unfair criteria through a government-controlled and one-sided Dispute Resolution Commission.
(3) Ensuring that recognized labour relations principles and the democratic rights of all employees, and the trade unions which represent them, are preserved in the determination of any new bargaining unit structures or bargaining agents, and in the continued application of collective agreements.
(4) Providing the Ontario Labour Relations Board with additional authority if necessary to determine transitional bargaining unit and bargaining agent issues arising from the restructuring rather than creating another body which has no credibility and no legitimacy. This may require providing the labour relations board with additional authority to make the necessary determinations concerning bargaining units and bargaining rights and security. However, this is far preferable to establishing an entirely new body to replace the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which has decades of experience and acceptance in dealing with successor rights issues.
(5) Ensuring that employee and trade union rights are determined only through adjudicative processes which are independent, democratic, fair and open.
(6) Treating broader public sector workers in our province with no less favour than the government has already shown Ontario's doctors. We're all the same. We have a service which we provide to the people of Ontario.
We greeted with interest Labour Minister Witmer's remarks at Queen's Park last Thursday afternoon and we await with great anticipation the actual amendments to Bill 136, because when we consider the track record of this government's lies, lies and more lies, we can't accept her words. We need proof.
We need proof that the government is serious in its desire to respect the minimum standards of dignity for those who would be affected by Bill 136, and also for those who would be affected by Bill 160, the Education Quality Improvement Act, which is the legislation for the teachers, and that the government doesn't intend to tamper with the right that workers have achieved through generations of struggle to collectively negotiate a fair and equitable agreement with their employers. You can rest assured that we will not take such attacks lying down. You can rest assured that the kind of situation that arose at PC Globe in Scarborough, where the workers took over the plant a few weeks ago, that kind of activity, will be repeated in other parts of the province as workers feel more helpless and more insecure in their jobs.
You are no doubt aware that public sector workers around the province are gearing up for job action. You have to be aware also that many of these workers have never taken part in any kind of demonstration before. These people are voting in large numbers and by large majorities to support whatever measures are necessary to put an end to the cruelties and inhumanities inflicted by the Harris Tory government on the people of Ontario.
While we recognize that the Minister of Labour has tried to soften the full force of the blow of Bill 136 by saying that the right to strike for first collective agreements following amalgamation or restructuring will be maintained, while she tries to tell us that the current independent and impartial arbitration process will continue as we have known it and that references to the Dispute Resolution Commission and the Labour Relations Transition Commission will be removed and the Ontario Labour Relations Board will be continuing to function and that the choice of union representation would be determined by democratic secret ballot, there are still many parts of the bill that would remain.
For example, consolidation of a number of different bargaining unit disputes: How can disputes, however similar they may appear to an uninformed outsider, be scheduled satisfactorily when the specifics could be so different? How can affordability be a consideration when it's the province that holds the purse-strings? How can this government, at the drop of a hat, terminate all interest arbitration proceedings which are ongoing, with limited exceptions, and provide any decisions rendered in those proceedings void? What about the people affected? What about increasing the number of firefighters excluded from their bargaining units? What about public safety? What about the people who provide home day care as defined in the Day Nurseries Act? How can they, at the stroke of a pen, be suddenly deemed not to be employees? What about pay equity? Why should the sale of a workplace to a for-profit purchaser result in the cancellation of a pay equity plan?
As you can imagine, we can go on, but we'll close our submission at this point by telling you that when the labour council went to city council on Monday this week, we went there asking that city council support a resolution asking the provincial government to withdraw Bill 136, and they did. They passed it unanimously. They unanimously passed a resolution that supported the AMO resolution at their conference a few weeks ago, for which the resolved reads, "Therefore be it resolved that AMO," the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, "urge the provincial government to withdraw Bill 136, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act, until such time as dialogue has taken place between the provincial government, labour unions and AMO." We haven't seen such dialogue yet. We haven't been invited. We know that other municipal councils and school boards have passed similar resolutions.
Let me just finish by saying one more sentence: Let the government of Ontario act responsibly for once and withdraw this bill.
Mr Patten: Thank you very much, Ms Pan.
Ms Pan: It would be nice to see you.
Mr Patten: Well, it's not up to me; it's up to the technicians who are managing this.
I found it interesting that your city council supported the previous AMO resolution that the new president of AMO continues to somewhat downplay and minimize. Anyway, it's significant that your council has passed such a resolution and I believe there are, as you say, other councils that will do the same because they recognize that it's not wise to bargain in an atmosphere of continued mistrust. I think unfortunately that is exactly what may happen.
The minister made some statements here at the opening of the hearings on Tuesday. I wonder if you've had a chance to either receive a transcript of that or receive a copy of her comments, following her comments last Thursday in the House.
Ms Pan: I'm sorry. I wish we had, but we haven't, or I haven't in any case. I haven't seen anything.
Mr Patten: You touched on a number of parts of the existing bill prior to the minister's statements that she would address or the government would address certain important areas that essentially were in the OFL document. But as you say, we don't have the amendments before us and we won't see them until they are submitted, and when they are submitted we won't have a chance to react to them and even amend those because of the motion for time allocation from the government. That's most unfortunate. So it leaves at least a significant degree of cynicism.
Certainly as I've looked at the details of what the minister said last Tuesday, I suspect that what she's doing is doing away with the two commissions but imposing on the labour board and the other boards that manage the police or the firefighters' negotiations the same criteria, the same functions, the same responsibilities that in the first instance many people disagreed with. So I think especially when the major unions see this, they're not going to be very happy and we may be in the same ball game we were in two weeks ago. Do you have any reaction to that?
Ms Pan: I appreciate that you've just updated us on what's been going on down in Toronto. I'm absolutely dismayed, I'm outraged, but I'm not in the least bit surprised, as you can imagine, at what you've just said to us. This is a government that knows what to say, but this is a government that's not prepared to listen to anybody other than their own friends, their pollsters and their backers. This is a government that doesn't want to know what I have to say. This is a government that's not interested in what my friends here with me at the table tonight have to say. You're going to hear us, but I don't know if they're going to listen; I don't know if they're going to take any of it into consideration.
It's very sad because this is a government that was elected by 39% of the people in this province. It's not an overwhelming majority. Even if we round 39% to 40% and 40% to 50%, it's still not exactly a majority, is it? So I'm not exactly sure what right they're governing by, other than they got more than anybody else, but they're certainly not governing in terms of representing people.
They're not representing any of the folks I represent as president of the labour council. They're certainly not looking after the best interests of single mothers on social assistance or people in general who are living in poverty. They're not looking after the interests of people who work for the public sector. They're not looking after the interests of people in the communities at large, because whatever services public sector employees provide are services which are needed, which are used, which are enjoyed and appreciated by the community. This is a government that really doesn't seem to care.
Mr Patten: When the government members ask you some questions, you might want to ask them. I've made that statement about 10 times now and there's been no dispute on the government side saying I'm incorrect, and I'd like to be incorrect because I'd like to believe the minister.
Ms Pan: And so would I.
Mr Patten: Based on the details of what she said, I find it difficult to do so, but nobody's contradicted me at this stage. Second, you said there could be some additional powers given to the OLRB. In your opinion, what do you think those additional powers could be to deal with this transitional phase?
Ms Pan: I'm not exactly sure how the OLRB should be changed, except that it seems to me the powers they currently have would be sufficient to look after the transition, because we've had transitions already.
In Thunder Bay you might be aware that they've closed a number of our acute care hospitals; they're about to close a psychiatric hospital; they're closing chronic care hospitals as well. We've had to do the amalgamation and we've had to do the coming together. When they set up Thunder Bay Regional Hospital and closed the Port Arthur general, they took away the name of Port Arthur general and they took away the name of the McKellar hospital and made it into Thunder Bay Regional Hospital with a McKellar campus and a Port Arthur general campus.
There had to be a vote among the people who worked there to determine which bargaining agent was going to be their bargaining agent. There were campaigns and a vote was taken. There is one bargaining agent for the clerical employees, there's another bargaining agent for the service employees, and the nurses still have theirs. We can do it.
When Fort William and Port Arthur, as I said earlier in the brief, amalgamated and formed the city of Thunder Bay, we did it. We didn't need any of these garbage issues the government is trying to throw in our face. We don't need that. We can do it. Where there's a will, there's a way. This is the very essence of collective bargaining. Once I have a position and the other side has a position and together, collectively, come to a conclusion, come to a resolution, it's easy. It's done all the time. We can do it. We don't need this draconian legislation to force us. We don't need to be beaten up by this government. We certainly don't want it.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation; I appreciate it. First, you should know that the resolution your home community passed is identical or very similar to the one my home town in Hamilton passed. In your community, like mine, we've got the city council opposed to 136 and wanting it withdrawn, as well as the local labour council. I would assume that if your community continues to be like mine on this issue, you've got a lot of broad public and community support for withdrawing Bill 136.
I think that's happening more and more across the province, which is in part probably why the government is trying to rush this process through. They don't want the scrutiny the public would put this to and I suspect their polling has shown them this is a losing issue for them, big time.
The other thing is your comment on the promise the minister made to travel. One of the other presenters, actually from Hamilton, said she had to drive to Kincardine from Hamilton to go on cyberspace. She drove three times as far to do what you're doing when she's one hour away physically from where we are, and there was nobody sitting at the end of this table. We had her on the TV screen. It's most bizarre. Only the Mike Harris government could arrange this kind of situation. Her comment was that maybe what the minister meant when she said there would be travel across the province was that it was the citizens who had to do it as opposed to the politicians.
We've got to laugh because that's all we've got left, and this is such a sham in terms of the process. I agree with you when you say what's happened is shameful.
The fact is, we're down to the second-last day. Actually because of administrative matters we've only had three days of input. We'll finish this off tomorrow, Friday afternoon, at 5 o'clock. By Monday morning at 10 am we have to have all the amendments in in legal format and the last report we get from our researchers is at 9 am Monday morning. It's just a joke.
If the government really wanted to listen, and you were questioning whether they do, whether they're actually listening, the fact is they've got no process for sending this back to cabinet in time to consider what's been said here. So they've already decided what they're going to do. This is a sham. I've got to believe any government backbencher with any sensibility is extremely embarrassed by this and will be so glad when it's all finished.
The government likes to say: "Look, it's usual procedure. We don't normally consider amendments until after committee hearings." But we've never seen a piece of legislation where the government guts their own bill before they bring in the amendments. She basically announced that she's gutting the whole thing. Would you be looking for an opportunity after you've seen the amendments to have further input so that you could talk more accurately about exactly what it is the government's proposing?
Ms Pan: Absolutely. I really appreciate that you've raised these issues because it's very difficult to prepare a presentation with a day's notice anyway.
I ought to let the committee in Toronto know that tonight is our labour council meeting, which is something I'm missing right now to be here, but we thought it was important enough that our labour council be seen and heard here, so I'm here. We have a labour council meeting so I had to do all the preparations for that. Some folks might be aware that this weekend is the North Bay Days of Action and after our labour council meeting tonight a number of us are heading off on the bus to North Bay, so there were preparations to make for that, not to mention just the regular run-of-the-mill things.
Doing this, as a person who has a full-time, straight day job, was not easy, but I want you to know that we've done this, we've made the effort because we think it's important that however much of a sham this exercise may be, a hollow exercise, we have to do our best to let the government know. It's very difficult to make a presentation based on, "Maybe it's this, but maybe it's that." I don't believe a thing this government says to me. I have to see it in writing and I have to see it from more than one source -- Hansard will do -- because I don't believe anything they've said. They say one thing and they turn around and do another thing or they just lie. I guess that's the easiest way I can put it. They just lie.
Mr Christopherson: Thanks very much for your presentation. I'll see you Saturday in North Bay.
Ms Pan: Absolutely.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): I appreciate your comments here tonight. Let me just start with a couple of thoughts your comments have raised.
I don't think you have a monopoly on scepticism. Back on August 19, Mr Sid Ryan was on CFRB radio, Canada's largest radio station, and in fact I could cite you four different instances where he used words in different interviews all with the same basic theme, "If the real goal is to ensure a smooth transition with no labour disruption, I know myself that our union can guarantee that."
Then the day the minister made the changes, having reflected on the meetings they've held with the union leaders, he was asked the question, "The minister said you've used the word 'guarantee' there won't be any strike." His response, "I don't know where she's getting that statement from." Quite frankly, Mr Ryan has no credibility.
Ms Pan, you have suggested in your comments that you haven't seen any dialogue yet. You referred to that in the context of the AMO resolution and Thunder Bay's similar resolution.
Ms Pan: If I may, the AMO resolution --
Mr Gilchrist: Let me just finish, Ms Pan, and then I would invite your response in turn.
I find it interesting that you say there's been no dialogue and yet at the same time you recognize that the minister has made a number of changes. Let me just reiterate those changes, your scepticism notwithstanding.
We've removed a proposed restriction on the right to strike. It's gone. It's on the record, those sections are gone. We have provided the first-contract provisions of the Labour Relations Act will continue to apply for first collective agreements, as you have suggested in your own presentation. We agreed and are replacing the proposed Labour Relations Transition Commission with the OLRB, period. We have ensured that following restructuring, employees' choice of union representation will be determined by a democratic secret ballot, and I believe in your comment you suggested that was a worthy goal. We have completely eliminated the proposed Dispute Resolution Commission; It's gone. We have returned instead to the current legislative provisions governing the appointment of arbitrators. There are a number of other changes and I won't belabour that.
The fact of the matter is, we've had a situation here where the bill was tabled on June 3. That's not yesterday, it's not a week ago. All parties and all interested stakeholders have had an opportunity to read the bill, and if they thought improvements were required or appropriate, consult with their colleagues and come back and make those comments. You may not be aware, and I don't want to be unfair to you, but going back well into July, in writing, Mr Gord Wilson and other labour leaders were invited to sit down at the table -- phone conversations or phone requests right from the minister and letters from the minister -- and they declined. They didn't want to be part of those discussions until they'd gone through Labour Day.
I'll leave it to others to ascertain the motives and the sincerity behind that, but they got their soapbox on Labour Day and then miraculously they decided it was worthy to sit down with the minister, and as a result of those face-to-face meetings, surprise, surprise, they never thought we would listen, but we listened and we responded and the four major concerns they had, we dealt with. They're done; they're gone. Like you, sure, in a perfect world we'd have the specific wording that says, "Clause such-and-such is deleted."
But let me say something else to you because you should be equally offended if you're offended at the absence of the amendments. Neither the Liberals nor the NDP have brought forward any amendments. They have also had the bill since June 3. So forget any nonsense about the researcher's report coming in at 9 o'clock on Monday morning. The researcher's report is only a compilation of the comments you yourself and others are making. I would hope Mr Christopherson doesn't need to be reminded just two days from now of the points you've made here tonight. I'm sure he's making notes and will take under consideration what you've said. He doesn't need a researcher to remind him.
The bottom line is that all the suggestions that have been made all the way up till now, if the Liberals and the NDP had any credibility, they would have tabled their amendments. Do you know why they don't, Ms Pan? Because then we'd have the opportunity to ask you what you thought about their suggestions and they won't expose themselves to that. That's the bottom line.
I guess I'm left with a great deal of consternation. We have said it publicly on the record, all those changes are absolute. I appreciate you can say you're sceptical, but I hardly think our minister, or Mr Christopherson during his term of office or Mr Patten during his, that any of them would have gone on the record and said those things and then only a few days later been called to account because they didn't honour it. I think we would all accept, face value, these commitments will be honoured.
For you to have made a major part of your presentation disputes with sections that have already been deleted I find somewhat surprising, but I think what Mr Ryan -- I'm told my time is running out. I guess I'll just leave it.
You have used your hospital anecdote about the mergers and you said that as a result of the cooperation between the workforces there, they held a secret ballot and they've resolved that. I can give you this assurance, that that is in the bill and that unless all of the voting bargaining agents agree there shouldn't be a vote, there will always, in every case of restructuring, be a vote required and that you can't go even to the OLRB unless there's been good-faith bargaining.
Thank you very much for your comments and we will certainly take them under advisement.
Ms Pan: May I just have a moment, please?
The Chair: Your time has expired. Very briefly, please.
Ms Pan: Fine. I'd like to say for starters that I really do not appreciate being yelled at by somebody who obviously didn't listen to what we had to say. Had he been listening --
Mr Gilchrist: I hardly was yelling, Ms Pan, but I can't control the volume at your end. I'm not yelling. I'm using my normal speaking voice here. So my apologies if the technician at that end has the sound turned up.
Ms Pan: I don't appreciate blaming a technician for something -- your attitude is very plain.
Had you been listening, you would have heard me say in our presentation that we heard what the minister said in the Legislature, but we don't believe her.
Mr Gilchrist: Well, I don't believe Mr Ryan, so I guess we're equal, Ms Pan.
The Chair: I'm sorry.
Ms Pan: If you had been listening, if you were --
The Chair: We have to wrap up. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we are out of time. Ms Pan, I want to thank you on behalf of all the members of the committee for taking the time to come before us tonight. Your attention to this bill is appreciated and we thank you again.
Ms Pan: And I'd appreciate the opportunity to debate the amendments. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you.
OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, MID-CANADA COUNCIL
The Chair: We now will welcome from the same location in Thunder Bay representatives from the Office and Professional Employees International Union, the Mid-Canada Council.
Mr Larry Kopechanski: My name is Larry Kopechanski and I'm president of Local 386 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union and also president of Mid-Canada Council, which represents 1,400 employees spread between Marathon in the east and the Manitoba border to the west. My associate is Joan Johnson, president of Local 219 from Marathon, Ontario.
This submission on Bill 136 is made on behalf of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. We would like to thank you for this opportunity in allowing us to present our concerns regarding Bill 136, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act, 1997.
On behalf of our brothers and sisters belonging to OPEIU across the province, we would like it to be known that we are glad the Minister of Labour, Elizabeth Witmer, has kept her promise to the people of Ontario in holding public hearings across the province. Is this an effort to save face for an upcoming election?
It is very unfortunate that we were notified of the hearings only a few more than 24 hours in advance, that these hearings are not open to the public across the province, and that there are only five groups that can voice their concerns in Thunder Bay on behalf of northern Ontario.
If the minister is allowing for more presentations than we have spoken about, she has kept her intentions in the closet along with her amendments.
The amendments in themselves are a whole other issue. We are dissatisfied that these hearings are taking place on a very controversial bill. While the minister has publicly promised a great deal of change, the government has not yet provided those changes to the people of Ontario. How can we truly voice the concerns of the public sector employees we represent regarding Bill 136 without addressing the proposed amendments? What weight will be given to these presentations by the government considering the proposed changes to the bill? Will the Harris government turn around and say to the taxpayers: "They wanted public hearings? They got public hearings and not one presenter disputed our amendments"?
How can we dispute, comment or assist in making this change better for the people of Ontario when the government refuses to work towards accomplishing one common goal?
Pardon us. The Premier finally did meet with labour after massive mobilization of the labour movement.
The Mike Harris government has set new rules and invoked a closure motion which will severely restrict debate on this legislation. There are four days of scheduled hearings. This is day four. We are still kept in the dark, we don't know exactly what the amendments will be. We don't know how they'll affect public sector employees of this province. The government intends to pass this bill in record time. It has been stated that Bill 136 will go to third and final reading October 2, 1997, and become law.
We feel for all committee members involved in this makeshift public hearing. Your timeliness for properly doing your jobs is unbelievable. Can this committee achieve its purpose? You'll have four days of hearings, absorb and apply the information received, and make recommendations that will impact approximately 500,000 Ontario citizens -- and all by September 29. Is this what Mr Harris calls accountability to taxpayers?
It is our understanding that the clause-by-clause reading is set for September 30. Two short days later, on October 2, 1997, the third and final reading of Bill 136 will become law -- all this without having any input to the proposed amendments. What happened to our democratic rights?
The government claims to have introduced Bill 136 in order to deal with the mergers and amalgamations of hospitals, school boards, municipalities and other social services. They say that Bill 136, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act, 1997, will ensure that services are merged in a timely matter and without disruption. We believe the opposite. Bill 136 will create utter chaos. This province has been through change before, successfully and under the present structure. It is our opinion that the government of the day is blatantly blaming public sector employees for their inadequate tax cut plan.
By introducing Bill 136, it is the public sector employees who will pay with their jobs, their wages and their benefits for decisions that are beyond their control. The closing of dozens of hospitals across the province and the forced merger of many others, the unwanted amalgamations of cities and school boards and the cutting and downloading of provincial services will only generate massive disruption. The accompanying job loss will only breed frustration and conflict. The introduction of this bill will not resolve the government's said intention of "smoothing the transition period." The complexities of such transition require thought and patience, not legislation that will further erode the system in place.
Bill 136 as it was first introduced was very complex, lengthy and in some areas very unclear. It amends seven pieces of legislation: the Labour Relations Act, the Employment Standards Act, the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act, the Public Service Act, the Police Services Act, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act and the Pay Equity Act.
Pay equity is a human right. It was established to redress gender discrimination in the compensation of employees employed in female job classes in Ontario. By introducing Bill 136 and amending the Pay Equity Act, the government is jeopardizing equal pay for equal work. This alone is an attack on women, who are statistically paid less for jobs of equal value compared to male classifications.
By eliminating the employee wage protection program presently in the Employment Standards Act, the government of the day is giving the message that workers are second-class citizens and should stand at the back of the line to receive wages they have worked for and are entitled to, should their employers go bankrupt. Is this government taking proactive measures for massive bankruptcies in Ontario due to their implementation of the Common Sense Revolution?
The disputes resolution act and the Dispute Resolution Commission established under it would effectively abolish the long-standing system of independent, impartial, tripartite arbitration for resolving collective bargaining disputes and settling the terms of collective agreements. It would permanently apply in those sectors where employees regarded as essential are denied the right to strike; for example, hospital workers, police and firefighters. It replaces free collective bargaining in the broader public sector, such as municipal employees, by suspending the right to strike during the transition period of restructuring.
The DRC will not be composed of independent arbitrators chosen by the workplace parties but rather by direct cabinet appointments. This alone demonstrates the fundamentally biased nature of the DRC and Bill 136 as a whole. The members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which we represent, could never support legislation which allows such biased interference in the relationship between ourselves and the employers we bargain with.
Examples of this bias can be found not only in the process of appointment of the commissioners, but also in the criteria of the DRC and the one-sided powers it will have at its disposal. Bill 136 requires that the commission consider new criteria, such as an employer's ability to pay, first introduced in the government's omnibus Bill 26.
Further criteria, such as "best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers," are introduced in this bill. These new criteria of affordability and best practices, together with the criteria from Bill 26, are augmented by the authority of the commission to rely on unilaterally proclaimed policy statements. Together, such new criteria raise grave concerns as to the independence of the DRC and that unionized workers could be forced to accept the lowest wages paid in the private sector for comparable work.
To understand the seriousness of this change, one needs to know that the arbitration system of dispute resolution was established to replace the right to strike and therefore is supposed to mirror free collective bargaining as closely as possible. To impose one-sided criteria such as this on an arbitrator is similar to telling private sector workers that they can't strike if their employers tell them they can't afford to pay their wages or benefits.
The act gives the cabinet-appointed commissioners sweeping arbitrary powers which violate any pretence of due process. Some of these powers include the ability to limit witnesses, hold or not hold a hearing, require written submissions and to set the length of both oral and written submissions, prohibit one party to the dispute from access to any information it sees fit, and decide other matters it deems necessary. It even has the right to set its own policies governing disputes settlements, regardless of the position of the parties to the dispute.
This act clearly destroys the free collective bargaining process that workers in Ontario and any democratic society have long held sacred. Potentially the DRC would have the power to dictate a collective agreement on behalf of a group of workers without virtually any input from those workers. The act would further allow the DRC the right to rely on their own agenda, not necessarily that of the workers or employers involved.
Finally, the DRC is a permanent body. It is not just established for a limited transition period. It will therefore effectively eliminate the due process of an independent, impartial arbitration system which, while itself short of the right to free collective bargaining, at least has the advantage of fairness.
Also under Bill 136 is the introduction of the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act, which established another cabinet-appointed commission called the Labour Relations Transition Commission. While the DRC imposed a new system of disputes resolution, the LRTC is established to determine the issues arising from the government's imposed restructuring and downsizing of hospitals, school boards and municipalities. These include such far-reaching issues as the size and shape of the new bargaining unit, which union would represent employees in the new bargaining unit, seniority of both union and non-union employees, plus the terms and conditions of employment during the transition period.
Like the DRC, the LRTC is a body arbitrarily established by the government. The positions in this new bureaucracy are again to be filled by cabinet appointments. There is no fair due process in either the LRTC's establishment or in its function. Employers, for example, can use the transition commission unilaterally. The union cannot oppose this, nor appeal its rulings, however biased.
Unlike the DRC, the LRTC is supposedly a temporary body in effect until December 31, 2001, although it can be extended by regulation. During this transition period the right to strike for workers who can now have free collective bargaining, such as municipal employees, is suspended.
To summarize, the Dispute Resolution Commission is established by the Harris Conservatives and filled with its unilateral appointments for the sole purpose of circumventing the precedents and due process of the independent arbitration system. The transition commission is established by the Harris Conservatives and filled with its appointments only to circumvent the arbitral jurisprudence and due process of the labour relations board.
The reason for labour's opposition to Bill 136 should be obvious. The one-sided interference, the arbitrariness and the lack of an impartial due process should be of concern to all citizens who favour democratic rights and basic fairness.
There are several reasons why we think the government has introduced this bill in the face of long-standing, more appropriate and more fair mechanisms already in place. These reasons, in our view, concern the government's desire to impose fundamental changes in Ontario society as a whole. Such changes would foster more inequality, more unemployment and push women, visible minorities, and youth out of the guarded public sector and into the low-wage private service sector.
The purpose of Bill 136 in our opinion is to pay for the Harris tax cuts for wealthy Ontarians, to prepare for the mass privatization of the public sector, create a downsized, low-wage broader public sector which will function to drag down private sector wages and to attack the democratic rights of working people and their unions, which stand against the government's policies and are able to actively mobilize opposition to them.
In conclusion, we cannot stress enough the inequities in the structure of these hearings. We have briefly discussed some of the controversial issues introduced in Bill 136. We have not had the opportunity to address the ghost amendments.
We urge the committee members of this panel to take back to the Harris government a recommendation that more hearings be held on the amendments that the Minister of Labour, Elizabeth Witmer, has promised. We urge the committee members of this panel to take back to the Harris government a recommendation not to rush such a controversial bill. We recommend to the committee members of this panel to let the Harris government know that the public sector employees will not stand for such unjust, undemocratic, and unfair practices in the province the Ontario, and request that Bill 136 be repealed.
On behalf of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, we thank you for your time.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Larry, for your presentation. I appreciate the detail and depth you've gone into. It's just unfortunate you don't have the actual amendments so that it could be directed to exactly what's going to happen, rather than what the government was going to do last week.
Just so we keep this process thing straight, because it's crucial to all of this, the fact that all of this is a sham, it's a front, the government's already made up their mind in terms of what they're going to do, up until Wednesday of last week, things were just motoring along that Bill 136 was not going to change, that the government was planning to ram it through, and the public sector people in communities and city councils and even AMO were all mobilizing against it up until Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Labour introduced the time allocation motion and that effectively lit the fuse right across this entire province, because that's when she shut down any kind of real democratic input. Then we get into this sham of a process, this joke, this insult that says we've only got till tomorrow at 5 o'clock. Amendments have to be on the table by 10 am Monday morning and we start debating those amendments at 3:30 that afternoon. That's finished the next day, and then the time allocation says we get one day of debate, which means at most three hours and probably less than that, in the House to debate the final version of what this government's going to do. That's the reality.
After she lit the fuse on Wednesday and the labour movement and the communities across Ontario mobilized all evening, all night, into the next morning, into the next afternoon, then she got up and said: "Oh no, just kidding. I'm not really going to do Bill 136. I'm going to gut this and do something completely different."
But you, Larry, don't get a chance to comment on what "something different" is. I hope that we're able to put more and more pressure on this government. We should be able to, if we can get the word out that this is a sham and that any real hearings, first of all, involve meeting the minister's promise of travel, so we can do this face to face rather than this cosmetic cyberspace thing they've slapped together at the last minute to cover off; and secondly, that we get an opportunity to comment on the real deal, on the bill, to make sure the actual words in the legislation match what the minister has said.
I want to ask you one question if I've got time, Larry, and that is, why do you think the government stood down on terms of the original Bill 136 as we've known it up to now?
Mr Kopechanski: I think they took into account the quick mobilization of the labour movement and realized that there was some massive opposition to it and if they didn't do something, then they would be made to look like fools when all the walkouts started taking place.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much, Mr Kopechanski, for your presentation. I apologize for the late notice that you received to make your presentation. I must say, though, that I did have a motion before a subcommittee of this committee last Thursday that if the members from the two opposition parties would have agreed to would have allowed our clerks to start telling people a lot earlier, perhaps even as early as last Thursday and Friday, about the possibility and times that people would have come in to have hearings. I thought it's only fair that you know that.
One of the statements you said was that we don't need any changes to the existing system, that everything would go along fine the way it was, and with Bill 136 prior to the changes the minister talked about, if that was the case, that if people could collectively bargain solutions to finding new units and new agents and a new contract, they would never have had to go to Dispute Resolution Commission or the LRTC. As you've heard, those bodies are being eliminated and replaced by the OLRB and the use of first-contract arbitration is now going to be utilized. The right to strike has been returned for municipal employees, as the way it was, and we're going to use the first-contract arbitration process, the one that was brought in by the Liberal-NDP government of 1986. I just wondered if you support the first-contract arbitration process in Ontario today.
Mr Kopechanski: Personally, I don't. It is one way of getting the job done, and for lack of any other process I guess it works in some cases. The only problem is, with the process that has been established and outlined in the bill to date, you've got 30 days to negotiate a collective agreement and then an agreement is imposed on you, regardless of whether that agreement is partial to one side or the other or meets the needs of either of the parties. That's the thing that's most devastating about the whole thing: You could end up with a collective agreement that doesn't suit the interests of the employees or the employers.
Mr Maves: Okay, so you didn't agree with first-contract arbitration when they brought it in or the 30-day change that the NDP brought in in Bill 40. Do you support employees having the ability to vote on their new bargaining agent?
Mr Kopechanski: Yes, of course.
Mr Maves: Okay. Do you support the equal treatment of years of service for union and non-union employees?
Mr Kopechanski: No, I don't.
Mr Maves: Why is that, sir?
Mr Kopechanski: Because if an employee elects to take a non-union position, that is their right, but why then should they have the right, in times of turmoil, to revert to their total service with the employer and bump somebody who has stayed in a union position for the reason of security?
Mr Maves: I guess I would say, why shouldn't they? If two people have served the same employer for the same number of years, regardless of whether they were union or non-union, which is their right to choose, whether they want to be union or non-union, I guess my question is, why shouldn't they be treated equally?
Mr Kopechanski: There are perks usually that go with non-union positions and if that's what you want, the perks, then take them and stay there. Don't revert back to the bargaining unit when times get tough or you lose your job.
Mr Maves: If the majority in the new bargaining unit -- and the non-union employees are in that new bargaining unit -- vote to have a bargaining unit and a bargaining agent, then the democratic way is those people are now included in the bargaining unit.
Mr Kopechanski: If that's what the legislation is going to end up saying, yes, but at this point in time we don't know what it's going to say. These are some of the ghost amendments that we haven't seen yet.
Mr Maves: So you would say unionized employees should all be in line first for new positions in a new workplace if there's an amalgamation, say, of a municipality, and non-unionized should then be considered for placements.
Mr Kopechanski: If the new positions are going to fall within a bargaining unit, yes, it should be up to the union employees to take them first.
Mr Maves: Okay, thank you.
Mr Patten: Good evening, Larry.
Mr Kopechanski: Good evening.
Mr Patten: First of all, I'm sorry to say that we're not up there in Thunder Bay having a chance to meet you face to face, as I think we should have been. Hopefully the next go around we will be and hopefully the government will honour its commitments when it states that it will in fact travel the province, which it didn't in this instance. I'm sorry that's not happening.
Mr Maves just talked about a subcommittee meeting we had in which he said he would want to talk about advertising. We were so abhorrent to the fact that we weren't going to be travelling that the subcommittee, which is made up of Mr Maves, Mr Christopherson and myself, recommended to the full committee to extend the hearings, to ask for the amendments so that people like yourself, Larry, and any witness who would come before us would know precisely and specifically what we were dealing with.
We had one other amendment -- I forget what it was at the moment -- and we brought that to the full committee, which is our role. It was voted down. Of course it was voted down because there are a majority of government members on the committee and they didn't want to see that because they want to honour the time allocation motion that was made by the government.
We wanted to fight to extend the hearings and to travel around the province; that was the reason. Larry, did you hear the minister or do you have any transcripts of the minister's comments at the opening of the hearings last Tuesday?
Mr Kopechanski: No, I don't.
Mr Patten: She said she wanted to elaborate on the details of it. I haven't got the time to give you the specifics, but there are extra copies here. We should try and get them to you.
Mr Kopechanski: Just pass one across the table.
Mr Patten: Yeah, right. Okay. The minister has loosened up in her statements to say that yes, she is now a little more open to the selection of arbitrators. But what has happened in both instances, for the non-essential workers and for the other workers who have a right to strike, the arbitrators now have new criteria imposed upon them. It is not the regular labour sector procedures that people may think will happen. She says right in her statement to us at the committee that the changes we are making will certainly provide representatives with the tools they need.
I'd like to turn briefly to the criterion of ability to pay. The government will be extending ability to pay and other criteria they had in the original bill that were destined for those two commissions. Those criteria will be transferred to the arbitrators in both instances and will change the terms of reference and the mandate for arbitrators as they deal with this particular piece of legislation. Were you aware of her statement saying that?
Mr Kopechanski: No, I wasn't. If that's what they're going to do, impose the DRC criteria on the arbitrators, basically they're taking away the effectiveness of the arbitrator completely.
Mr Patten: That's my view too. I keep waiting for a debate from some of my colleagues, but they're not contradicting me. I have it right here in the words of the minister. That's why I'm so concerned about it and why I'm worried that we might hit a crisis by Monday morning.
The Chair: Mr Kopechanski, we thank you very much for coming before the committee tonight with your colleague Ms Johnson. We appreciate your taking the time to share your advice with the committee.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LAKEHEAD AREA OFFICE
The Chair: I'd like now to call upon, also live from Thunder Bay, the Canadian Union of Public Employees representatives. Good evening. Welcome to the standing committee. We are glad you are able to join us. We welcome you and ask that you would introduce yourselves for the Hansard record.
Mr Howard Matthews: My name is Howard Matthews. I'm a national representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees assigned to the Lakehead area. With me is Shirley Marino, president of Local 2486 with 240 members who work at the Lakehead Board of Education. Also with me is Barry Chezick, negotiating chairperson for our largest local in northwestern Ontario, Local 87, representing municipal workers. The largest group is at the city of Thunder Bay.
I've been a union representative for 16 years. Before that I was an activist. I've negotiated more than 100 contracts in those 16 years. During the course of those negotiations I've taken more than 20 different strike votes. However, I've never taken a group out on strike. In fact, I've never even been on strike myself. We have reached a mutually acceptable settlement on every single occasion. I'm extremely proud of this fact and I would be extremely proud to finish my entire career without ever having to take a group out on strike.
I do not -- and my members do not -- want to strike over Bill 136. I am not strike-happy, neither are my members and neither is my union. The record speaks for itself on that. The second-last thing we want is a strike; the last thing we want is Bill 136 the way it is currently written. One last comment on strikes: Strikes really hurt our members more than they hurt the employer. Strikes are somewhat akin to a letter carrier shooting herself in the foot. She doesn't deliver the mail so fast but she doesn't feel so hot about it either.
We intend to address Bill 136 as it is presently written. We have heard about the promised amendments. If those are negotiated in good faith, then there is every reason to expect a settlement and there will be no strike. Those promised amendments will so change the bill that they will make it a completely different bill. We think it is an outrage to democracy for the government to table these amendments, which make this a completely different bill, on Monday morning, September 29, and to force the Legislature to vote on it by Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon.
This process seems deliberately designed to provoke suspicion and confrontation. We have to ask, what's the rush? In that context, the original timetable had this bill going to public hearings in mid-October and not being finally passed until the end of October. We've never heard a reason why that timetable needs to be rushed up to where it's being rushed. Surely this bill does not have to be voted on next Tuesday or Wednesday. Enough time can be set aside to resolve any disputes that may arise as a result of the amendments that will be tabled on Monday. Certainly the parties are closer together now than they were a week ago at this time. It would be indeed tragic if a strike occurred because of the government's determination to rush through a completely amended bill that will be hitting the light of day for the first time on Monday.
One final comment: We regret that we were not advised of the opportunity to address this committee until late yesterday morning. As a result, this document is not as well researched as we would normally like. However, it hits all the main points we would make even if we had reasonable time to prepare. I've left copies with your clerk here in Thunder Bay to pass on to all the committee members.
The next section I want to get to is the modern labour relations environment. The modern environment evolved in the last 50 or 60 years, depending on what event you count it from. It followed over a century of worker struggle against both employers and government. Many workers over many years made great sacrifices, some giving up their lives in the struggle for collective bargaining rights. The Winnipeg general strike in 1919 is but one example of that struggle.
The genesis of the modern labour environment is in the Wagner Act in the United States in 1935 and in Privy Council resolution 1003 passed in Canada during the Second World War. The concepts in these documents were incorporated into labour relations acts around the country after the Second World War. These documents provided the basic collective bargaining rights and obligations on both parties, including the obligation to bargain in good faith. Collective bargaining was established not only as a right but as a desirable public policy goal.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board was created to oversee the process and to ensure that employers did not interfere in the right of employees to join a union and to engage in collective bargaining. In the late 1940s the Rand formula -- that's Justice Rand, a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada at that time -- came into existence as well as the loss of the right to strike during the term of a collective agreement in exchange for binding resolution of disputes by arbitration. The whole body of arbitral jurisprudence has evolved out of this development. I'll speak more on that in a moment.
Further restriction on the right to strike occurred in the 1960s, when essential service employees lost their right to strike in many provinces in exchange for impartial third-party interest arbitration. The need for collective bargaining flows out of the simple truism that a single employee is no match for a modern employer. The common analogy is the single worker against Henry Ford. The concepts of supply and demand are only reasonably applicable to commodities, not to people. Workers are not commodities to be bought and sold by the cheapest bidder.
Working people are entitled to negotiate a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We are entitled to wages and working conditions that allow us and our families to participate in the community with dignity. We are entitled to a fair share of the wealth that is created by our work. We are entitled to deal with problems with our employers with a sense of equality, not as master and servant.
What is most important, we are entitled to bargain provisions and collective agreements that ensure that our members will perform the work they are doing during the term of the agreement. In other words, we are entitled to negotiate protection against contracting out and privatization of our jobs. Further, it is important to remember that collective agreements are for relatively short periods of time, usually one, two or three years. Any clause in those agreements can be negotiated and renegotiated in the next agreement.
Free collective bargaining is a universally recognized human right. The right to strike is fundamental to collective bargaining. Restrictions on the right to strike should be rare and only apply in exceptional situations. In the case of essential services employees, employees should only lose the right to strike in exchange for impartial third-party binding arbitration.
Arbitrators, arbitral jurisprudence and the labour board: Implicit in this legislation is a profound lack of understanding and respect for the legal traditions that have evolved in labour law in the province and in the country, and for the tribunals and practitioners that have developed and created the jurisprudence and processes that have flowed from these tribunals. The unspoken suggestion that these labour practitioners have been biased in favour of labour -- nothing could be further from the truth. If anyone deserves the title of father of modern arbitral jurisprudence, it is Bora Laskin, who incidentally is from Thunder Bay.
Professor Laskin went on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Professor Laskin set a standard of excellence in writing arbitration awards that arbitrators who followed were compelled to emulate. I have attached one such award from the hundreds he wrote, titled, "Polymer Corp Ltd," written in 1959. Following is an excerpt from one page of about a 10-page award. This is Professor Laskin:
"It seems to this board that fundamental to any approach to the issue is some understanding of the history and purpose of resort to 'final' or 'binding' arbitration, to use the terms which appear respectively in s. 19 of the Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act and art. 7.04 of the governing collective agreement. As a matter of history, collective agreements in Canada had no legal force in their own right until the advent of compulsory collective bargaining legislation. Our courts refused to assume original jurisdiction for their enforcement and placed them outside of the legal framework within which contractual obligations of individuals were administered. The legislation, which in the context of encouragement to collective bargaining sought stability in employer-employee relations, envisaged arbitration through a mutually accepted tribunal as a built-in device for ensuring the realization of the rights and enforcement of the obligations which were the products of successful negotiation." Now keep in mind this was written in 1959. "Original jurisdiction without right of appeal was vested in boards of arbitration under legislative and consensual prescriptions for finality and for binding determinations. In short, boards of arbitration were entrusted with the duty of effective adjudication differing in no way, save perhaps in the greater responsibility conferred upon them, from the adjudicative authority exercised by the ordinary courts in civil cases of breach of contract." What it effectively did was make collective agreements as enforceable as any other contract in our society.
"That adjudication was intended to be remedial as well as declaratory could hardly be doubted. Expeditious settlement of grievances, without undue formality and without excessive cost, was no less a key to successful collective bargaining in day-to-day administration of collective agreements than the successful negotiation of the agreements in the first place. Favourable settlement where an employment was aggrieved meant not a formal abstract declaration of his rights but affirmative relief to give him his due according to the rights and obligations of the collective agreement. In some jurisdictions, as for example, Ontario, this view was emphasized by the fact of statutory withdrawal of the application of arbitration acts from labour arbitrations, thus excluding the kind of curial review which was open to the parties to commercial arbitration. To have proposed to union negotiators that collective agreements, so long ignored in law and left to 'lawless' enforcement by strikes and picketing, should continue to be merely empty vehicles for propounding declarations of right when the right to strike during their currency was taken away, would be to mock the policy of compulsory collective bargaining legislation which envisaged the collective agreement as the touchstone of the successful operation of that policy."
That's one statement on the evolution of arbitration which was written at the time it was evolving.
Professor Laskin understood the historic tradeoffs and balancing that went into these labour processes. These processes are part of the real social contract in this province. All arbitrators in the province understand the tradeoffs and balancing that are part of the present labour relations environment. It is important for government to understand the evolution of these processes as well and that the processes brought an end to many decades of labour relations conflict.
There seems to be an understanding of some of these processes in what's being called the "phantom amendments" we're hearing about, but there's no recognition of these processes in the original bill. The foregoing deals with rights or grievance arbitration. The same arbitrators deal with interest arbitration; the same people, the same kind of evolution and respect for judicial processes has occurred in interest arbitration. Bill 136 attacks the independence, impartiality and fairness of the interest arbitration process and replaces it with decision-making by government cronies.
Some 30 years ago, our members in essential services lost the right to strike in exchange for impartial, independent and fair interest arbitration. That was the tradeoff. Now the government is attempting to take back our part of the bargain. Our position is straightforward: If we do not have impartial third-party fair arbitration, then we have the right to strike. It is that simple.
One final comment before leaving this section, and this was raised earlier by one of the questioners: Employers have always included the "ability to pay" argument in their submissions to arbitrators, and arbitrators have always considered it along with other arguments put forward by the parties. It is ludicrous and preposterous, if you've ever been to an interest arbitration proceeding, to suggest that those propositions haven't been put before arbitrators and that arbitrators haven't considered them. Certainly, every single arbitration table I've ever been at has seen the employer raise that issue.
However, to use one example in a hospital context, the ostensible employer in the context of a hospital arbitration is the provincial government. To suggest that the arbitrator is bound in his or her decision to restrict their award to the amount of the provincial government's grant is self-serving to the nth degree.
Labour's position, conclusion: Following is labour's position in regard to Bill 136.
(1) In our democratic society, employees are entitled to have their terms and conditions of employment negotiated through a process of free collective bargaining.
(2) The right to strike is essential to free collective bargaining.
(3) In the case of workers providing essential services, if the right to strike is curtailed, it must be replaced with independent and impartial arbitration to determine employees' terms and conditions of employment.
(4) Employees should not lose their collective bargaining rights as a result of restructuring, and are therefore entitled to standard successor rights protection, including continued trade union representation and application of their collective agreement.
(5) Any changes to bargaining units or bargaining rights as a result of restructuring must be based on recognized labour relations principles and be determined through a democratic, open, fair and independent process.
(6) Legislation must ensure that tribunals responsible for determining the rights of employees are governed by basic principles of fundamental fairness and natural justice.
(7) Like doctors, workers in the broader public sector are entitled to have the terms of their employment determined through a process of free collective bargaining. Free collective bargaining requires the right to strike, a right which has recently been exercised by Ontario's doctors. By any definition of "strike," what the doctors conducted last fall falls under the definition of "strike." They weren't at the state of a full-scale withdrawal of services, but they certainly were acting in combination to achieve a collective agreement and withdrawing services. Essential service workers must have access to independent and impartial arbitration. If this is not made available, then like doctors, these workers are entitled to exercise the right to strike.
Bill 136 is unacceptable. The proposed Bill 136 violates these fundamental principles without any proven justification or necessity for doing so. Bill 136 would eliminate the right to strike, permanently abolish independent and impartial arbitration, restrict successor bargaining rights and collective agreement protection and undermine the independence of adjudicators and arbitrators. Bill 136 is deliberately designed to erode employee collective bargaining rights and collective agreement protections through a process that is neither fair nor independent.
The foregoing is taken directly from the Ontario Federation of Labour's proclamation given to the government on July 28, 1997. There is no change in labour's position. We are not shifting and have not shifted our premises.
The question arises: What is labour seeking in these negotiations? The answer is as simple as it can be: Nothing. Zero. Zilch. All of the above-listed demands are what presently exist, and these rights exist in every country in the world that is democratic. Our position is that you cannot take away our democratic rights. We ask and have asked for nothing in these negotiations. We have asked for you to leave the democratic traditions of this province that are now over 50 years old alone and stop attacking the citizens of your own province.
I did not come here to make threats, but I promise you that you will not take away our rights without a fight, and that fight will last as long as it takes to get our rights back. If we don't win the first battle, which is playing itself out now, the fight will go on and on and on for as many battles and as many fights as it takes until we finally get our rights back.
I have always believed and my union has always believed that any dispute that can be settled with a strike can be settled without one. It is time for cooler heads to prevail. The elements are present to settle these issues and to respect each other's rights. Let's get it done without a strike.
Mr Barry Chezick: My name is Barry Chezick. I have worked for the municipality of Thunder Bay for 22 years and I've been a member of this community for over 42 years, this city that was formed by the amalgamation of the city of Fort William, the city of Port Arthur, the municipality of Shuniah and the township of Neebing. In 1969, four CUPE locals holding 10 contracts were merged into one, CUPE Local 87. This was achieved the old-fashioned way, by a time-honoured method called negotiations. There was no need for a horrendous bill such as Bill 136.
I am disturbed about many aspects of the bill, but because of my close ties to my community I am going to focus my comments on the powers of the Dispute Resolution Commission as it pertains to first collective agreements after a restructuring. Your government wishes to give this commission the power to decide these agreements based on the purposes set out in the act, which include encouraging "best practices that ensure delivery of quality and efficient public services that are affordable for the taxpayers." The disputes commission must compare the efficiency of the public service with the best practice in the private sector.
The decision of the government to give such powers to one select group of individuals to make sure the taxpayers in the municipalities get their bang for their buck seems on the surface to be the responsible thing to do. In reality, all it is trying to do is find ways to open up public service delivery to private contractors, most of whom are large corporations.
What do the words "best practice" really mean? It may not be obvious to you, but to me these words should have been replaced in the bill with the words "cheapest practice." Let's not be fooled by thinking this has anything to do with the quality and efficiency of services that are going to be provided to the taxpayer. If we are to examine this closer, it becomes quite apparent that the government wishes to turn over the delivery of public service to the lowest bidder. We must keep in mind that private contractors are profit-motivated, so when they take over the delivery services that are being provided by the public sector, we must ask ourselves, "What will be sacrificed in order to assure this profit margin?"
Your government plans to have the Dispute Resolution Commission turn over all the municipalities' numbers related to the costs of the service delivery that the public sector provides, then put our jobs out to tender. What private company worth its salt would not be able to put in a lower bid to provide such service with their competitor's numbers in front of them? In any other tender process the municipalities would undertake, this type of action would be considered criminal.
One must also open your eyes to the increases in user fees in the province and the reintroduction of a two-tier system into our society. Some services soon will be available only to those that can afford them if turned over to the private sector. I am here to tell you that the services my co-workers and I provide for the members of our community are and will continue to be delivered with a sense of pride and ownership. This is what guarantees quality and service.
For years I have cleaned up private contractors' messes, repaired damage that they have left behind, completed jobs that they have failed to finish, redone projects that they have done at less than a satisfactory level and have been asked over and over again by my employer to take on tasks to complete the attempts that they have attempted to contract out, because not even they can justify paying more than twice the price that we as public sector employees can do the same job for.
I respectfully ask the government to take time out before you take the first step towards changing the way services are provided to my family, my neighbours, and the rest of Ontario. You might want to take a quick look at why municipalities went with providing the very services to the taxpayer that you now are so eager to hand back to those you had no choice but to take away from in the past. History is a good teacher.
In conclusion, if you are prepared to give the Association of Municipalities of Ontario the tools they requested to help them turn over my job or any CUPE members' jobs, you must also prepare yourself for a fight from us to protect those things we as unions have achieved through fair collective bargaining. I would like to address the committee on the negative effects of contracting out, which could well be the result under Bill 136 and Bill 137 both. I represent the custodial, cafeteria and maintenance staff with the Lakehead Board of Education. I would like to acquaint the committee with what we do, which is a lot more than just sweeping and mopping floors and hauling out the garbage.
We are security for 50 buildings within the Lakehead Board of Education. These are all million-dollar buildings. We provide the security, the maintenance, and also the cleaning. We have training on safety codes for the playground equipment and gym equipment. All these things have to meet government standards. We're familiar with those codes and we maintain them. Those of us who work for the board tend to retire from our jobs rather than quit them. The number of people quitting jobs with the Lakehead Board of Education in a year, you could count on the fingers of one hand.
By opening the door to a minimum-paid workforce as opposed to a reasonably paid stable workforce, you expose children in these buildings to a rapid turnover of untried, unknown workers. People who are stuck in minimum-wage jobs are always looking for something better, and no employer will place rigorous standards on or offer the extensive training required to maintain buildings to a safe standard with a transient employee.
The Lakehead Board of Education is an excellent employer. They have over a number of years been at the forefront of confronting issues of health and safety, and the contracting out does not work. In the words of our own employer, our people do it better, faster, and cheaper than any contractor they've ever hired.
That's all I have.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We have just over two minutes remaining for questioning, so in this circumstance we would do questioning only from the official opposition caucus at this time.
Mr Patten: Thank you very much for your presentations from all three of you. We only have about two minutes. I hope, by the way, that we will get a copy of your presentations. I understand the clerk had notified us here that we may have them by noon tomorrow. I thought they were very valuable.
One of the things you said struck a chord with me. It's been said in different ways, but I thought you said it well. It was using the criteria of the ability to pay, which arbitrators would have to use when it's the government that controls the purse-strings, especially in the case of school boards, even more so now than it was before -- totally -- and for hospitals the same thing, although it's not true in the case of all hospitals because they raise a little bit of their own funds. But by and large the provincial government controls or pays the freight for a lot of these things. So to apply that particular ability when they're putting the squeeze on municipalities or school boards and cutting back on expenses or hospitals, whatever the case may be, I gather you are saying really is a conflict-of-interest situation. Did I hear you correctly, Howard?
Mr Matthews: Absolutely. It's another way of eliminating collective bargaining. The government has been very creative on all the angles in this bill to try to do that, but nothing could be more self-serving than to decide how much money a school board or hospital is going to get and then tell an arbitrator, "You can award anything you want, but you have to stay within the money we've given you." That's not ability to pay. Ability to pay takes into account all kinds of things, such as the government's ability to tax and how much the government could afford to pass over to that hospital.
But I have to tell you, it's just a lie to say that arbitrators haven't taken ability to pay into account in their awards in the past. The government's emphasis here is not for arbitrators to take it into account; it's for them to be bound by it, and only that. That's what effectively eliminates collective bargaining. Arbitrators, if I could just explain this, are very well-to-do people. They're certainly not from the labour movement. They certainly understand economic issues and they're not irresponsible. They obviously take into account the ability of the government or an employer to pay for what they award in a contract, and they always have done that. This government is trying to create a shell game where it eliminates their freedom to look at all the factors.
Mr Patten: The history of any transition seems to suggest that and supports your arguments. Thank you very much, and I look forward to reading your brief.
The Chair: That concludes our presentation time. On behalf of all the members of the committee, we thank you for coming before the standing committee tonight.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL 268
The Chair: Colleagues, I would now like to call upon, again live from Thunder Bay by way of teleconferencing, representatives from the Service Employees International Union, Local 268. Good evening. Welcome to the committee. Just so you know, at this end it looks like we have eight members of the Legislature here in this committee room. You may begin any time.
Mr Glen Chochla: Thank you very much. I'm afraid we didn't have time to do a written submission, and a lot of what I was going to say was said very well by the previous presenters from CUPE. In particular, their comments about the ability to pay issue really summarized things very well, and the history of our collective bargaining process and how long and hard we struggled to set that process up in the first place. I think both of those things are very, very important in terms of the presentation that we're going to give, and I ask you to keep those in mind when you listen to me, and please, all members on the committee, keep those in mind when you're dealing with the amendments, because the history of collective bargaining and the history of how we got our present system is not something that should be lightly tampered with.
The reason we're on the eve of a general work stoppage right now is that this government is trying to turn the clock back 50 years. Citizens in Ontario, whether unionized or not, are saying, "Absolutely not," and employers are saying, "Absolutely not." The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has said to you Conservative Party members who are there in Toronto listening right now: "What in the world are you doing? Stop for a minute and take a look."
I think Mr Christopherson said it earlier this evening, and he's quite correct: The bill has been totally gutted. If we're to believe Elizabeth Witmer's statement of September 18 -- and it's on faith at this point because we haven't seen the amendments; we'll know better on Monday -- then surely there ought to be public hearings on the amendments once they're introduced. We would expect that, at a minimum, we will see full public hearings for a further couple of weeks on the amendments. Surely to God that will happen, and we expect that will happen.
Just a bit of a comment about what this government has done in the past. I appeared on Bill 26 a year and a half ago and I said much of what I'm going to say tonight at that point. Bill 26, if you'll remember, was another crisis situation such as we have now, where the government was trying to ram through an incredibly broad bill and there was basically a shutdown of the Legislature in order to get public hearings. Now we have a potential shutdown of the entire province. This government is lurching from one crisis to another, created by its own right-wing extremism.
We're encouraged by the fact that it would appear that within the caucus of the government, within its natural constituency in the Conservative Party, there is a reaction against that. We're encouraged by that. We would ask you to continue with that process of self-criticism that it would appear you have begun to embark upon, because you're not governing in a commonsense manner. You're governing in really a nonsensical manner in the manner in which you're going about dealing with things like Bill 26 a year and a half ago and now this particular bill.
Our union local in Service Employees International is made up of approximately 4,500 members. Most of them work in nursing homes and hospitals, and municipal homes for the aged here in Thunder Bay. We're spread across northwestern Ontario into northeastern Ontario, all the way from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie and the towns in between.
Our members, I can tell you, are absolutely committed to the provision of quality health services despite the stress they're under with really the gutting of the health care system by this government, and also the privatization of the health care system, because that is what this government is doing. The government is cutting hospital funding. It's saying, "Go to the community health care system in order to get your services," instead of from hospitals. It's underfunding that system and inviting American corporations to come up. We'll soon have to pay privately for community health services because they will be underfunded and the hospital system will continue to be underfunded. That's what our members are looking at right now. That's the context in which they're viewing Bill 136. So there's a bit of a more recent history and a bit of an explanation, I think, flowing from that as to why we're on the eve of a general work stoppage in Ontario.
I want to talk a little about some of the original parts of the bill. The Dispute Resolution Commission that was proposed as a replacement for the HLDAA process was really quite outrageous. What you were doing with that commission -- and that's what we have in the bill right now as it stands before us; it hasn't been amended as yet -- was handpick government commissioners to decide what would go into hospital collective agreements. You were going to straddle them, you were going to hamstring them, not only with the ability to pay provisions that are in Bill 26, but also this best services provision that's in section 1 of the act.
We understand the government's getting off of the commission process. That's positive. We understand that you're seriously considering going back to the process of independent arbitration. We also understand that part of the reason you're doing that is that some reality struck home when you started talking to people who do arbitrations in this system, people like Mort Mitchnick and Paul Haefling and Kevin Burkett, all the people who have been doing interest arbitrations over the years and doing a good job. They told you, as I understand it, not any one individual in particular, but the general comment you got was that no self-respecting arbitrator is going to want to serve on this commission. That's why you've backed off of it, and we give you credit for doing that.
We still have some concerns about what we're hearing is going to be in the amendments, however. We understand that a Ministry of Labour official is going to be able to determine who the arbitrator is in the event the parties cannot agree. I suppose that's not a departure from previous practice, provided that the Ministry of Labour official you pick is not a government hack but rather a true civil servant who is going to do his or her job in a professional, neutral, unbiased manner. As I understand it, we're told that is what's going to take place and we trust that will.
We also understand that Ministry of Labour official will be able to determine what the process of the arbitration system is going to be; in other words, whether it will be a full-blown hearing, whether it will be mediation or arbitration, or whether it will be final offer selection, where the arbitration board will choose the final offer of the employer or the final offer of the union and nothing in the middle.
We think that's a really bad idea. We think you should leave it up to the parties and leave it up to the arbitrator and the arbitration board with the two nominees to decide what the process is going to be. We're particularly concerned about the final offer selection process. If you want to have full and frank and honest and purposeful discussions at collective bargaining, you want to stay away from final offer selection, because it will discourage that kind of purposeful communication and exchange of ideas. When you're headed for arbitration, you want to be able to put forward to the arbitrator the reasons for your proposals, and so through the negotiating process you're always thinking about what's going to fly with an arbitrator. Final offer selection is going to destroy that. We understand that employers are basically saying the same thing to you and we hope the minister will get off of that.
Section 1 says words to the effect, as we understand it, that the arbitration board will have to consider the "best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers." That's going to be put together with Bill 26 as the "ability to pay" provision. A couple of things on that: First of all, it violates the International Labour Organization's committee called the Governing Body on Freedom of Association. It violates their findings and recommendations. What the International Labour Organization says is that when you have a system of binding arbitration it should be an unfettered system. It shouldn't be a system where you're hamstringing the arbitration board.
What Brother Howard Mathews said is absolutely correct -- and I think this is very, very important for government members to understand and make the effort to understand, because it's not really an ideological issue, it's a factual assertion that Howard was making -- that ability to pay has always been considered by interest arbitrators. However, interest arbitrators have also said that one has to consider what is going on generally in society in terms of wage settlements.
When you look at the rest of society you're also looking at the private sector, and you're looking at the private unionized sector, because we're comparing apples with apples. We're comparing public sector union members with private sector union members, generally. Arbitrators are saying "Look, these people don't have the right to strike. It's not fair that they be saddled with whatever financial situation the government decides to create for itself." As a government, you do make the decision as to whether you're going to give a tax break or not, as to whether you're going to raise revenue or not, and how you're going to spend. It's not fair to saddle hospital workers with that, and there are some home workers with that.
What is fair is to look at what is going on in society generally. Sure, you're going to have some regard to what the government's fiscal goals are, but you also have to look at the larger society. If wage increases in the private sector are coming in at zero or 1%, then that's what hospital workers are going to get. If they're coming in at 2% and 3%, hospital workers are going to probably get that. That's what you see in the history over the years, that's what you see in interest arbitration settlements. I would invite you to talk to people like Mitchnick and Haefling and Burkett and others. Sit down and talk to them. Read their decisions to see how they arrive at their final decisions.
Sometimes an interest arbitrator will say, "We're going to give you some job security in exchange for a lower wage increase than you're otherwise entitled to." We've seen that in interest arbitration awards. The fact of the matter is -- and this is something the government has to understand -- if hospital workers feel that the system is not working, that it's not fair, then they'll choose not to go with the system and they will strike as they did before we had HLDAA. That's why hospital workers all across the province are prepared to go on strike, if need be, in order to preserve the system that we have right now. Better do it now then have to do it a thousand times in the next 20 or 30 years. That really is the only socially responsible thing, and the only decision they could come to as responsible members of the community. It's not an easy decision for them to make but they're prepared to do it.
Just a couple of other comments: We have some concerns about the time lines that the government wants to put on the HLDAA process. We think the 60-day time limitation from the date of the appointment of the arbitrator to the date of the award is not sufficient. The process does need some streamlining, it needs some tighter time lines, but really 60 days is not enough. We're suggesting that a 60-day period would be appropriate from the date of the completion of the hearing to the date of the award, so that the arbitration board would have 60 days to make its decision and write it from the date of conclusion of the hearing. Also, that would be not a mandatory but a directory time period, so that the arbitration board would have the discretion to say, "Look, we need some additional time here."
We're also concerned that proceedings under the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act that have already started at this time, that are in process before the amendments hit on Monday, should continue under the old system.
Just to restate something: We really urge you to take section 1 out of the bill and to go back and take the "ability to pay" part out of the old Bill 26 as well.
Just a few final comments about restructuring: I've been through, and my union has been through, about four or five processes of restructuring in the health care sector -- two of them major, major hospital mergers, one of which went smoothly. It went smoothly because the government was providing fairly adequate funding at the time, the previous government. One has gone through with more difficulty because the hospitals have been under severe financial strain. We've also been through smaller mergers as well with smaller health sector workplaces, not hospital workplaces.
The biggest thing you want for a smooth restructuring is (1) adequate funding, because with adequate funding you'll get negotiated settlements without hearings, and (2) you need hospital administrators that are prepared to negotiate in good faith and don't want the moon, the stars and the whole solar system. If you have those two things, you'll have smooth restructuring. You really don't need to do a whole heck of a lot with the Ontario Labour Relations Act to get better restructuring anywhere in the labour relations system. You need (1) adequate funding and (2) hospital and municipal human resources people that are prepared to not dictate but negotiate.
Finally, seniority of non-union employees, a contentious issue: Let the labour relations board decide that issue. They used to have the power to do that prior to Bill 7. Give that back to them. It never should have been taken away in the first place. My own view on that is that when we get into mergers we usually approach the non-union group and say, "Look, get unionized now because you may not have your seniority rights respected after the merger." I think most unions do that. It just seems to me if the union approaches a non-union group and they don't want to join the union, then why the heck should they get their seniority recognized after the merger if they made the decision ahead of time not to unionize in the first place. I just leave that with you as food for thought.
Lastly, pay equity: I don't think anybody's mentioned it tonight. In terms of pay equity, this government's already had its knuckles rapped over what it did to proxy pay equity. The courts have rolled it back. I think you're running the risk of the same thing happening if you take away the pay equity safeguards that are there when there's a sale of a business.
Anyway, I think we still have some time for questions, if there are any questions.
Mr Hastings: Mr Chochla, thanks for your presentation. The thing that most interests me are your latest remarks regarding mergers, if there were adequate funding and sufficient goodwill on both sides in terms of negotiating most of the issues regarding mergers or where there is the issue of conflicting representation between or among two unions for the right to represent the affected groups of employees. I would like to know what your thinking is in terms of how long you think it should take to resolve interjurisdictional merger issues, including representation.
If you look at some of the examples, and I'm sure there are lots of others, and you've probably had experience directly with issues in this context regarding the health sector, how long do you think it ought to take before these issues are resolved, given that we had, the other day, a couple of examples cited by the Ontario Hospital Association, one that goes back to the Toronto Hospital Corp merger of 1986, where there is still an issue of seniority lists being provided or not being provided by CUPE over certain types of work that had to be done? There seem to be some problems still with respect to this issue of mergers and union jurisdiction in the Thunder Bay amalgamation of hospitals. There seems to also be that issue -- the details may be different -- regarding McMaster-Chedoke.
I'd simply like to know from you how long should these issues take, because in the case of the Toronto Hospital merger we're looking at 11 years. In the case of Thunder Bay we're into at least one year. Should they go on forever, I guess would be my question? How do you think they ought to be resolved? OLRB pressure? Or should they end up not getting resolved at all? I'm sure you wouldn't take that approach.
Mr Chochla: There are couple of different parts to your question. First of all, with respect to how long it should take, it depends on the size of the workplace. If it's a very large hospital like Toronto East, it's going to take a long time. There are lots of issues that have to be resolved. In the case of a smaller workplace, we've had mergers of, for example, group homes, two different organizations providing group home residential facilities for the developmentally challenged. We've resolved those issues within a matter of months. So it depends.
A lot of this is driven by the employer. In Sault Ste Marie we've had a relatively smooth merger. The reason that we did was there was immediate recognition, right from the word go, by the human resources person in the hospital that the merger was going to be very stressful for the membership, and I can tell you when it's stressful on the membership, its stressful on the union leadership because they have to try to settle everybody down and make it go as smoothly as you can. We have a leadership role with our members that can very much assist in the merger process. So it depends very much on human resources people.
But with your government what you've done is you put a lot of pressure, in fairness to human resources people, you've put a lot of pressure on your human resources people because they don't have the money to work with to resolve some of these issues. Money is important when you're trying to sort out, for example, the question of two people doing the same job earning different wage rates, because at one time they were under two different collective agreements. Realistically, you've got to bring them up to the same rate.
But the stress that your government is putting hospitals under is making those kinds of issues very difficult to resolve. They're making issues like collective bargaining language, whether you have contracting out protection or not, very difficult to resolve, because the hospitals are saying, "Hey, we're getting pushed by Mike Harris and the gang, and we can't give you what we could have given you under Peterson or Rae." So money is probably the number one factor, and the attitude of the human resources people is the second factor.
It may be that ten years is what's required, but let me just say this: You go into collective bargaining every three or four years in the hospital system. It's there in the interest arbitration, in the collective bargaining system, that you resolve these issues.
Mr Patten: Mr Chochla, thank you for your presentation. I wish we could do this in person. Hopefully next time we can.
Mr Chochla: I hope so too.
Mr Patten: I'd like to link three things that you made in your presentation which I think are important. First, you began by sharing your commitment to the quality of health care. Then you went on to talk about the present context and then you ended up your presentation by saying that there need to be two factors that exist in order to have a fruitful resolution to differences, and those were adequate funding and negotiating in good faith. I would say to you that both of those aspects are in trouble.
The reason I say that is because on the adequate funding issue, there was a report released today by the OHA, done by an independent body -- it was a CIBC report -- which showed that at the moment, hospitals have been cut back and quality of care is suffering even though, as you know, there's a further requirement -- even though it's deferred for a 7% reduction, there's been a 5%, 6% reduction etc, regardless of what may happen under the restructuring, so that comes out at the moment where there's a lot of pressure on quality.
The second one is negotiating in good faith. When the employers get a tool that is very attractive when they're in deep trouble because they're contingent upon being economically dependent upon the provincial government, in some cases they feel, "We don't want to do this," but it's going to be mighty attractive for them to use that tool.
Mr Chochla: Absolutely. Your second point is very important and it's absolutely critical. We just had a job posting grievance where we were into a grievance arbitration. It was very clear that the solution to this job posting issue was to negotiate some retraining for existing employees. This was with the city of Thunder Bay. The arbitrator was helping to mediate it, and he said, "Why can't you negotiate some retraining?" I said to him: "The reason we can't negotiate retraining is we haven't had collective bargaining with the city for about four or five years. We haven't had collective bargaining because of things like the Social Contract Act. We haven't had collective bargaining because of the fear that our employees had under Bill 26 and the fear that our employees have right now in dealing with Bill 136."
Employers are basically saying: "We're not going to bargain. Push everything to arbitration, and if you push us to arbitration, we're going to ask for a stripping of your collective agreements." That's a real fear that we have. Employers in the public sector don't want to bargain and negotiate with us. So what have we been doing? We've been rolling over our collective agreements with public sector employers and not resolving issues.
Mr Patten: Thank you for your comments, sir.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Glen, for your presentation. You commented at the very beginning that you didn't have any time to prepare. Let me tell you that we've heard that from virtually every presenter, including those that traditionally have been supportive of this government's agenda.
Mr Christopherson: My colleague tells me 22 out of 26 are stating the same thing. Once you've got that many people from both sides of the equation, clearly there's a message there.
You also mentioned turning back the clock with Bill 136. I think you'll agree we've seen that with everything the government has done. Bill 7, the brand-new Ontario Labour Relations Act, where we didn't have one minute of public hearings, took us back 50 years. Bill 49 was to take away the Employment Standards Act for those people who aren't fortunate enough to have a collective agreement to protect them. The "bully bill," the omnibus Bill 26, of course took away rights in a huge way and set up a lot of what's happening these days. Bill 15 took away the rights of workers to have half the seats on the board of workers' comp. Bill 84 took away rights and betrayed firefighters. Bill 99 is a vicious piece of legislation taking away $15 billion from injured workers. They killed the Workplace Health and Safety Agency, and now we've got Bill 136, and that's not the whole list.
So you're right. The whole idea is to turn back the clock as far as possible and take us back to the point where our labour laws and our rights and protections are equivalent to those of Arkansas and South Carolina and remove any kind of protection we ever had, and that's going across the board. You can do that in every part of our economy and our society.
I'm getting to a question on a third matter, but secondly, I want to compliment you for raising the pay equity issue. This is crucial. We heard from Carol Butler at 3:30 this afternoon, and it's interesting. She has a case that goes back to the date of January 1, 1988, and they're making their clauses in Bill 136 taking away pay equity rights retroactive to January 1, 1988. The parliamentary assistant told me earlier today that's just a coincidence.
My question to you is, you quoted a well-known arbitrator as saying that no self-respecting arbitrator would accept one of the new commission positions. Would you expand on that? Why wouldn't someone accept one of these government jobs that traditionally a lot of people would like to have?
Mr Chochla: I wouldn't say a single arbitrator said that, but what we're hearing is that that's the general tone of what arbitrators have told the government.
The reason is that with the way the Dispute Resolution Commission was set up, an arbitrator who took a position on the commission was prohibited by the bill from doing independent arbitrations, for one thing. So it would mean the end of his or her private arbitration business for the term of his or her duration on the commission.
Secondly, it's not an arbitration system any more under the Dispute Resolution Commission. It's a process whereby what you're doing is fettered very directly by the government legislation. Any self-respecting arbitrator is not going to want to have his or her discretion fettered like that. The attraction of doing arbitration is that you're helping the parties come to a meaningful resolution. You're deciding a meaningful resolution based on all the evidence that you heard at the hearing. To have your discretion fettered by government legislation so tightly, what's the point in even being an arbitrator? You might as well have cabinet decide what's going to go into the collective agreement, and that's what the effect of the Dispute Resolution Commission was.
Mr Christopherson: Wouldn't that make you feel warm and fuzzy, to know Mike Harris's golf buddies are writing your collective agreements.
The Chair: Now, Mr Christopherson.
Mr Chochla: Absolutely.
The Chair: Mr Chochla, on behalf of all the members of the committee, I want to thank you for coming before us tonight with your advice. We appreciate it.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION, REGION 7
The Chair: Our final presenter tonight, again live by way of teleconferencing from Thunder Bay, is a representative from OPSEU, Region 7. Good evening and welcome.
Ms Pat Shearer: My name is Pat Shearer. I'm president of Local 736 here in Thunder Bay. I realize you've had a very rushed schedule for these hearings and I thank you for finding the time to let OPSEU present our views on Bill 136.
OPSEU represents 100,000 members in the public sector, including the 65,000 members who are directly employed by this government of Ontario. All of them can be affected by this legislation. We have been promised that the government will introduce a host of amendments addressing our concerns, and from what we have been told, Bill 136 will be completely overhauled. Unfortunately, we haven't seen these amendments. That puts us in a very absurd position of making a presentation based on an unamended bill and a series of hasty press releases from the Minister of Labour.
I would also note that the government has broken its commitment to hold province-wide public hearings on this legislation. Rushing Bill 136 through with as little debate as possible will not make this bitter pill easier to swallow.
That said, we have come a long way since June 3. Bill 136 as originally presented would have gutted our system of labour relations in this province. Once again, Mike Harris has singled out our public sector workers as the first victims in his assault on the rights of the labour movement. 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 has underestimated the public workers and their unions.
Mike Harris tried to undermine the Ontario Labour Relations Board by creating a Dispute Resolution Commission as its own private tribunal for deciding public sector disputes. The Tory government tried to strip the OLRB's right to adjudicate over restructuring by transferring 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 their right to strike. Finally, Mike tried to prevent OPSEU from representing its own members after the downloading occurs.
They could have saved Ontario a lot of time and worry had they recognized the contribution that the labour movement can make. These changes simply had to be made, and we are pleased that you finally recognize this.
We all have additional concerns, and I will focus on the issues which are particular to the crown employees. Our written presentation covers our wider issues, and others will also address them.
The government is singling out the OPS for discriminatory treatment. The bill amends the Employment Standards Act to change the severance obligations of the crown. Now if the OPS or the crown employees' jobs are transferred to another employer, the government must pay severance to the affected employees, but Bill 136 transfers the obligation to the new employer. This means that the payouts will be lower and will not be made until the employee leaves the new employer.
Bill 136 continues the bargaining rights of the bargaining agents in the same bargaining unit except for the crown employees. Employees who were previously crown employees would not be included in this new bargaining unit.
The bill effectively decertifies the unions representing the crown employees who are transferred to a successor employer. This imposes second-class status on our members, violating their rights of association under the Charter of Rights. Our members lose their collective agreements when they are transferred. They lose their representation rights and are vulnerable to the whims of the successor employers.
Our members are treated as non-union employees and are included in the 40% threshold that triggers a non-union option on a ballot. Crown employees deserve exactly the same rights that all the 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.
The OPS collective agreement requires the government to make reasonable efforts to find employment for OPSEU members 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 of the OPS. This collective agreement was signed by both parties after a five-week strike, and it is not an obligation we take lightly.
Bill 136 fails to acknowledge this responsibility; in fact, it is in conflict with it. When these employees are transferred out of the OPS, they move out with no collective agreement and no union, and they lack the ability to enforce these reasonable efforts, assuming they have been made. They are extremely vulnerable to the decisions of the successor employer, despite the contractual obligation they have made to them as their employer.
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 leaner, meaner Ontario. We are united in our opposition to the attempt to strip our members of their hard-won rights. In particular, we will stand by our brothers and sisters in the education sector if significant changes are not made to Bill 160 and the so-called Education Quality Improvement Act. Mike Harris should be told that divide and conquer 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 exploitation of workers and the 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 with 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 the workers in the public or private sector, you will continue to undermine the current labour relations climate. There will come a point when we will say, "No more." We will continue to mobilize our members against this government and its anti-people agenda, and we will be forced to act outside the law. We will do so to protect our members and their rights. Our slogan at OPSEU is: Whatever It Takes. I urge the government members of this committee to seriously consider this slogan. We mean it.
The Chair: Excuse me. Did you want to allow time for questions?
Ms Shearer: No, thank you. I didn't come to debate; I just came to deliver a statement.
The Chair: Okay, that's fine. Thank you, then.
All right, colleagues. On that note, we stand adjourned. We'll reconvene tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock.
The committee adjourned at 2115.