Queen's Park Toronto (BlackburnNews.com file photo by Sue Storr)Queen's Park Toronto (BlackburnNews.com file photo by Sue Storr)

UPDATE: Province loses appeal on Bill 124, won't appeal again

By a vote of 2-1, Ontario's highest court has upheld the decision calling Bill 124 unconstitutional.

The controversial law, introduced by the Ford government, capped raises for public service workers at one per cent a year for three years.

In November 2022, the Superior Court of Ontario struck down the law, ruling that it was unconstitutional as it violated workers' rights to collective bargaining.

The province disagreed with that decision and took the case to the Court of Appeals.

On Monday, the Appeal Court largely upheld the lower court's decision.

"Because of the Act, organized public sector workers, many of whom are women, racialized and/or low-income earners, have lost the ability to negotiate for better compensation or even better work conditions that do not have a monetary value," the court wrote, adding that the province couldn't adequately explain why wage caps couldn't be negotiated through good faith bargaining.

The only part of the previous ruling the Appeals Court disagreed with was in relation to non-union workers.

"Non-represented employees, given that they do not bargain collectively, do not benefit from the same protections as their represented counterparts," the decision said.

The Ontario Attorney General's Office said Monday evening that the government will not appeal the court's ruling again.

"The Government of Ontario...will instead take steps to repeal Bill 124 in its entirety in the coming weeks," read the statement. "To solve for the inequality of workers created by today’s court decision, the province will urgently introduce regulations to exempt non-unionized and non-associated workers from Bill 124 until it is repealed."

An official statement from Unifor commended the latest decision.

"This decision is vindication for the tens of thousands of workers, many of them working in health care and education, who were denied their constitutional right to fair and free collective bargaining. It also sends a strong and clear message to governments across this country considering using legislative powers to deny workers' rights," said Unifor National President Lana Payne. "The Charter rights of workers, specifically, the right to freedom of association and all that this entails, are not something governments can ignore or deny anytime they feel like it. Unifor will always vigorously defend those rights."

Following the Superior Court's initial ruling, Unifor has been one of the major players in ensuring that workers affected by the wage caps got retroactive pay.

The heads of CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE), SEIU Healthcare, and the assistant to the national officers of Unifor also released a joint statement, calling the decision a "win for all hardworking families who are trying to get ahead and all unions who fought on their behalf to protect the rights of all workers to freely bargain a collective agreement."

NDP leader Marit Stiles released a statement shortly after the decision became public, echoing that it's a victory for workers and unions across Ontario.

"Bill 124 hurt our province. It forced health care and education workers out of the profession, cut people's wages during an affordability crisis, and eroded the people’s trust in their government," she said. "The government needs to accept this ruling, stop fighting workers, and start addressing the crises that Ontarians are facing."

Liberal leader Bonnie Crombie also voiced her opinion on social media, calling the victory "long-overdue."

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