The Ontario government has tabled a bill at Queen’s Park that will see wage increases capped for a more than a million of the province’s public sector workers.
The legislation, if passed, will see a one-per-cent cap for three years. The bill passed first reading in a 64-40 vote Wednesday afternoon.
Union and non-union employees at school boards, universities and colleges, hospitals, long-term care homes, Ornge air ambulance service, children’s aid societies, broader public sector organizations, and boards and commissions that receive at least $1 million in provincial funding are affected by the legislation. It doesn’t apply to municipalities, including local fire and police services.
The announcement comes as the government continues to work toward eliminating an $11.7 billion deficit.
“Action must be taken and everyone must do their part,” Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“Introduction of this legislation does not impose a wage freeze, rollback or job cuts.”
Bethlenfalvy added existing collective agreements will not be affected by the legislation.
Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, raised the possibility of a charter challenge, saying the legislation violated unions’ ability to bargain collectively.
He also said unions are already preparing to protest.
“I think they’re going to have a long hot summer,” he said. “My union and others, we’ll target all those Tory MPPs and their constituency offices, all their fundraisers, all their golf tournaments, all their barbecues – we’ll screw every one of them up.”
The government’s legislation comes after the province recently started the bargaining process with the largest teachers’ unions ahead of an Aug. 31 contract expiry.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed the initiative Wednesday afternoon, saying it doesn’t respect the bargaining process.
“What’s reasonable is what’s negotiated at the bargaining table,” she said.
“It’s the every day folks that work hard to provide the services that Ontarians rely on that are being kicked to the curb by this government.”
The province began wage consultations with the public sector in April, but unions are calling those talks a “sham.”
Recent public sector wage increases have averaged 1.6 per cent a year and the average employee makes $64,000, government officials said.
When asked by Global News about how much money the province expects to save through this initiative and what the money will be used for, a spokesperson for Bethlenfalvy didn’t directly answer the questions.
“Every one per cent increase in compensation-related spending translates into $720 million in additional costs,” Hayden Kenez wrote in a statement.
“However, this is not about achieving a specific figure in savings. It is about protecting front-line services, public sector jobs, and making Ontario fiscally sustainable.”
Further votes on the legislation are expected later this year.
— With files from The Canadian Press