Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect an Ontario court struck down the legislation on Tuesday.
The Ford government plans to appeal a court ruling that struck down its controversial law limiting wages for public sector workers.
Bill 124, introduced in 2019, capped wage increases for hundreds of thousands at one per cent per year over a three-year period.
On Tuesday, an Ontario court struck down the legislation, saying it infringed on the rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association.
Later on Tuesday, the attorney general’s office said it would seek to appeal the decision.
“We are reviewing the decision,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Our intention is to appeal.”
The court ruling that struck down the act estimated roughly 780,000 workers in the public sector were affected by the legislation.
Many organizations and unions blamed the legislation for growing staffing issues in Ontario’s hospitals as the province struggled to recruit and retain nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Groups representing several hundred thousand public sector employees challenged the constitutionality of the law in court.
The province argued the law did not infringe constitutional rights.
An Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling released Tuesday by Justice Markus Koehnen said the law infringed on the rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association.
“I declare the Act to be … void and of no effect,” the ruling states.
In a statement, the Ontario Nurses Association said its members had been vindicated.
“ONA and its members are celebrating this hard-fought win,” the statement said. “This is a vindication of the rights of nurses, and public-sector workers across the province.”
Koehnen found the cap of one per cent per year limited bargaining rights for workers and unions over salaries and other elements of contract negotiations for public sector workers.
“For example, it prevents unions from trading off salary demands against non-monetary benefits, prevents the collective bargaining process from addressing staff shortages, interferes with the usefulness of the right to strike, interferes with the independence of interest arbitration, and interferes with the power balance between employer and employees,” the ruling said.
“I find that these detrimental effects amount to substantial interference with collective bargaining both collectively and individually.”
Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser urged the government to accept the decision and not to appeal.
“Bill 124 has damaged our relationship with a whole bunch of workers across the province, the government’s relationship with them, especially health care workers,” Fraser told Global News.
“Don’t keep dragging this out in the court — you shouldn’t be fighting this, it’s wrong.”
The decision does not include what remedies the unions, and public sector workers they represent, may be due. That decision will be made at a later hearing.
However, a report by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) in September suggested a ruling against Bill 124 could cost the government billions.
The FAO’s projections estimated that a court defeat could cost the province $8.4 billion between 2022-23 and 2026-27.
That calculation assumes public sector workers who had already had wages capped by Bill 124 would be compensated, while the bill would not apply to future negotiations.
The report estimated a total of $2.1 billion could be due to public sector workers in retroactive payments if Bill 124 is overturned.
“I remain seized of the matter to address the issue of remedy and any other ancillary issues arising from these reasons,” the ruling said.
— with files from The Canadian Press