Ontario’s arbitration system broken: OHA

Hospital association CEO calls on province to make changes in wake of award involving SEIU employees
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 05/10/2013

Ontario’s arbitration system is broken and needs to be fixed immediately, according to Pat Campbell, CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA).

In the wake of an arbitrated compensation award covering hospital employees represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Campbell issued a statement bemoaning the current system.

In 2009, OHA began the bargaining process with SEIU, she said.

“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,” said Campbell.

Since 2009, the province has imposed a two-year pay freeze for all non-union staff in the public sector — the freeze has now been thawed — and public-sector employers were directed by the province to seek zero per cent annual wages increased when bargaining.

“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,” she said. “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 zero 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 short, the arbitration system gave the SEIU a “consequence free ‘do-over,’” said Campbell, and arbitration awards like these “reduce the incentive for broader public-sector employers and unions to act responsibly during bargaining.”

The end result is hospitals are facing increased costs at a time they simply can’t afford them, and this could result in staff reductions that impact front-line patient services, she said.

The OHA wants the province to introduce changes to the arbitration system that would compel arbitrators to fully consider the ability of hospitals to pay wage increases without eroding patient care, she said.

“Hospitals believe their employees deserve fair compensation, and they work hard to ensure that their employees are fairly compensated,” she said. “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. "

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