Ontario Hospitals To Government: SEIU Award Proves Ontario's Arbitration System Broken, Requires Immediate Fix

TORONTO, May 8, 2013 /CNW/ - Today, Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) President and CEO Pat Campbell issued the following statement in response to an arbitrated compensation award covering hospital employees represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU):

"The compensation award given to the SEIU encapsulates much of what is wrong with Ontario's current labour arbitration system.

The OHA began this specific bargaining process with the SEIU in 2009. At the time, the SEIU rejected the same offer the OHA had made to, and was voluntarily accepted by, other unions representing the same types of hospital employees, and opted for arbitration.

Since 2009, the Government of Ontario has imposed a two-year pay freeze for all non-union staff in the broader public sector (this freeze has since ended), and the then-Finance Minister directed  broader public sector employers to seek 0 per cent annual wage increases when bargaining, and encouraged unions to voluntarily accept them.

Ontario's arbitration system allowed the SEIU to receive the same wage increases as their peers had freely negotiated in 2009 and 2010, even though SEIU rejected those increases during bargaining and the policy and fiscal environments have changed dramatically since then. It allowed the arbitrator to ignore a recent award given to hospital employees represented by the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents the same types of hospital employees as SEIU, that would see two years of 0 per cent increases in wages, beginning in 2012. It also allowed the arbitrator to ignore the fact that hospitals have received no real increases in operating funding since 2010, and impose new ongoing annual costs of $22 million on the affected hospitals.

In effect, Ontario's arbitration system gave the SEIU a consequence-free "do-over." Arbitration awards like these reduce the incentive for broader public sector employers and unions to act responsibly during bargaining, drive up hospitals' costs at a time when they simply can't afford them, and may result in reductions in staff and, more importantly, front-line patient services.

The OHA has called on the government to introduce changes to Ontario's labour arbitration system that would compel arbitrators to fully consider hospitals' ability to pay wage increases without eroding patient care services. To date, the government has been unwilling to take action or to impose an across-the-board wage freeze on all broader public sector employers. Moreover, the new Ontario government appears to be backing away from the previous government's approach of directing that employers and unions achieve voluntary 0 per cent wage increases. Given that hospitals will soon be negotiating new collective agreements with their major unions, the risks to this sector and the services it provides are elevated.

Let's be clear: hospitals believe their employees deserve fair compensation, and they work hard to ensure that their employees are fairly compensated. However, hospitals' priority is providing patient care. Given hospitals' funding realities, it is vital that the government reform Ontario's labour arbitration process and take other steps to enable hospitals to maintain patient care while meeting the government's stated fiscal priorities. "

SOURCE: Ontario Hospital Association

For further information:

OHA Public Affairs
Amy Clark
416-205-1433, aclark@oha.com


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