Statement by the Ontario Hospital Association on the Interest Arbitration Award Respecting the Ontario Nurses' Association



    TORONTO, March 5 /CNW/ - This morning, arbitrator Christopher Albertyn
released an interest arbitration award under the Hospitals Labour Disputes
Arbitration Act (HLDAA) in the matter of the 137 hospitals ("Participating
Hospitals"), represented by the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), and the
approximately 50,000 registered nurses represented by the Ontario Nurses'
Association (ONA). This award will apply to the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 fiscal
years.
    Nurses are a critical part of Ontario's health care team, and Ontario's
hospitals and patients value the skill and commitment that nurses bring to
their jobs. However, the OHA is extremely concerned about the impact this
award will have on Ontario's hospital and health care systems, and has lost
confidence in the process used to reach it.

    The Award: Cost
    ---------------

    The total cost to the Participating Hospitals of this award is 7% (an
additional $224 million) over two years.
    In the Hospitals' view, this award is inappropriate in the current fiscal
environment, and out of alignment with the freely-negotiated long-term
agreements concluded in 2006 by the OHA and Ontario's other major hospital
unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employee (CUPE), the Ontario
Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the Service Employees International
Union (SEIU), the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) and the Professional
Association of Internes and Residents of Ontario (PAIRO). It is important to
note that before this award, at $71,214 per annum (not including benefits,
premiums or overtime), Ontario's senior full-time nurses were already the
best-compensated in Canada.
    According to the HLDAA, the employer's ability to pay in light of its
fiscal situation and the extent to which services may have to be reduced in
light of the decision or award are to be given careful consideration by the
arbitrator. In Ontario, hospitals are subject to legally-binding, joint
Hospital Accountability Agreements (HAAs) negotiated with the Ministry of
Health and Long-Term Care. These agreements set out specific funding levels
for each hospital, and oblige each hospital to balance its budget out of that
funding envelope. The arbitrator appears to have ignored this reality and, as
noted above, has produced an award that is inappropriate in the current fiscal
environment. As a result, the OHA is concerned that the sizable financial
obligations imposed by this award may jeopardize the ability of certain
hospitals to meet the balanced-budget requirements of their legally-binding
Hospital Accountability Agreements.
    The interest arbitration process is designed to replicate results which
could have been reached in freely-negotiated agreements. As noted above, the
OHA and five of Ontario's major hospital unions were able to conclude
freely-negotiated, long-term agreements. This award in no way replicates those
agreements. Awards such as the one issued today bring the interest arbitration
process contained in the HLDAA into disrepute.

    The Award: Scope
    ----------------

    The OHA is concerned that the arbitrator appears to have substituted his
own judgment regarding the use of N95 respirators during an outbreak of
pandemic influenza for that of the Provincial Infectious Disease Advisory
Committee (PIDAC). This group of scientific experts is currently examining,
and has yet to provide guidance on, the appropriate level of Personal
Protective Equipment (PPE) to be used during an outbreak of pandemic
influenza.
    The OHA and its Member hospitals believe that staff safety must be a high
priority during an emergency situation. For that reason, the OHA believes that
matters such as PPE are best determined by the experts - including the PIDAC
and the Ministry of Labour, the ministry responsible for enforcing the
Occupational Health and Safety Act and ensuring that it is applied
consistently to all affected employees - and should not be the subject of an
arbitration award.

    The Interest Arbitration Process
    --------------------------------

    The OHA's bargaining goal is always a negotiated settlement that
recognizes that both parties have interests that need to be addressed and a
perspective that needs to be respected. The OHA continues to support the
principles that underpin the HLDAA. However, this award demonstrates that key
aspects of the HLDAA interest arbitration process are deeply flawed. As a
result, the OHA has lost confidence in the ability of the current interest
arbitration process to deliver results which could have been achieved in a
freely-negotiated process. It is clear that significant reform to the interest
arbitration process is needed.
    The interest arbitration process is supposed to result in awards that are
consistent with those which could have been reached in freely-negotiated
agreements. As noted above, awards, such as the one issued today, are not
consistent with this principle and bring the interest arbitration process
contained in the HLDAA into disrepute.

    Addressing Key Issues
    ---------------------

    As noted, it is important that the interests and perspectives of both
parties be addressed during an interest arbitration. In this award, the
arbitrator chose not to deal with any major employer issues, such as the issue
of redeploying existing, qualified nursing staff within a hospital in order to
fill vacant positions and meet patient care needs. The OHA believes that, by
not addressing this issue, the award ensures that there remains an incentive
for highly-skilled nurses to leave their profession at a time when the
hospitals in Ontario are actively recruiting nurses.
    The OHA believes that key issues of both parties must be equally
addressed during an interest arbitration process in order to maintain
confidence in the process.

    Next Steps:
    -----------

    The OHA plans to discuss this award with its Members in order to better
understand its effect on Ontario's hospital and health care systems, and will
then consider next steps.





For further information:

For further information: OHA Public Affairs, (416) 205-1305


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