February 12, 2024 – Today’s Bill 124 decision is a victory for collective bargaining rights and will have positive effects for women workers in Ontario, says the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).
In the decision, a majority of the Court of Appeal for Ontario found that the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019 (also known as “Bill 124”) violated the collective bargaining rights of unionized employees in the broader public sector.
The Ontario government enacted Bill 124 in 2019. Bill 124 imposed restraints that limited wage/compensation increases in the broader public sector to 1% during each of three one-year moderation periods. In 2022, a judge on Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice struck down the law for violating workers’ rights to freedom of association. The Ontario government appealed.
“Today’s decision is a victory for the women who make up 79% of the health care workers, educators, and other workers who saw their collective bargaining rights curtailed by Bill 124,” says Kat Owens, LEAF Project Director and Co-counsel. “The decision will enable these workers to push for fair compensation, better job security, and improved working conditions – the least they deserve in the face of a pandemic and soaring inflation.”
As part of its arguments, LEAF urged the court to specifically consider the gendered effects of Bill 124. In Ontario, women make up the majority of health care, social service, and education workers. Systemic discrimination means that work in these fields has been and continues to be undervalued. It also results in racialized women facing precarious employment, unequal compensation, and poorer working conditions.
Although much of the decision lacks a clear gendered lens, the majority specifically acknowledges that, because of Bill 124, “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 working conditions that do not have a monetary value.”
“We are disappointed that the majority did not do more to explicitly recognize the gendered realities of Ontario’s workforce,” says Owens. “That said, this decision will nonetheless have gendered impacts, allowing women workers to exercise their rights to bargain for fair compensation and benefits.”
Christine Davies, Kat Owens, and Danielle Sandhu represented LEAF in this intervention.
For media inquiries, please contact:
Project Director, LEAF