Labour leaders in Ontario are celebrating after a court ruled the Ford government’s controversial wage restraint law — Bill 124 — unconstitutional.
That decision could be subject to an immediate appeal from the province, which said its “intention is to appeal” the Superior Court of Ontario ruling.
However, even as the future of the struck-down legislation remains unclear, many labour leaders are celebrating victory in a battle they have waged since Bill 124 was first introduced in 2019.
“It’s a historic win for us, really,” Bernie Robinson, interim president of the Ontario Nurses Association, told Global News.
“We’ve had our rights trampled now for the years of this wage restraint. We will celebrate this across Ontario, this win.”
She said nurses were “ecstatic” at the ruling.
The legal challenge against Bill 124 was brought by Ontario unions which challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. The province said the law did not infringe constitutional rights.
An Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling released Tuesday found 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.
Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Association (OSSTF), said her members were “excited” about the ruling.
“What it means is the public sector workers have spoken up, they’ve fought against something that’s unconstitutional — and they’ve won,” she told Global News.
Health care advocates have argued since 2019 — with a growing urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic — that Bill 124 and its wage restraint rules were compounding the province’s health care crisis.
Nurses, in particular, pleaded with the province to remove the legislation. They said as burnout kicked in, many left the profession and staffing shortages began to bite.
“Today brought light at the end of the tunnel,” Doris Grinspun, president of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, said.
“Nurses and other health professionals feel someone is listening to them — and it is the court.”
Ontario’s Opposition parties have called on the province not to proceed with its plans to appeal the ruling.
“Don’t keep dragging this out in the court — you shouldn’t be fighting this, it’s wrong,” Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser said.
His words were echoed by Peter Tabuns, Ontario NDP Leader in a statement.
“My message to Ford is simple: do not appeal this decision,” Tabuns said.
“Bill 124 has wreaked untold damage on our precious public services. Mr. Ford’s wage-capping legislation has created staffing crises in key sectors like education and health care, and Ontarians have been paying the price.”