A collection of Ontario nurses have launched a Charter Challenge against Bill 124, which they say negatively suppresses the wages of nurses, nurse practitioners and health-care professionals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario Nurses Association says the bill interferes with their Charter rights to freely bargain, and the bill also interfered with negotiations between hospital sector members and an independent arbitrator.

“Now more than ever, we deserve recognition and reward. A fair and respectful wage increase is long overdue, and Bill 124 further prevents a fair increase,” wrote ONA, in a prepared release.

Bill 124 limits compensation increases, including salaries, pensions and benefits, to 1 per cent for three-year periods for unionized public sector workers in Ontario.

ONA adds that Bill 124 unfairly targets female-dominated professions, as male-dominated professions such as police officers and firefighters are exempt from the wage caps from the bill.

“Our provincial government has called registered nurses, nurse practitioners and health-care professionals heroes. It is time for this government to show that they consider us heroes. They need to take action and repeal Bill 124 now.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Ontario Federation of Labour and over 40 different unions have also created a coalition to challenge the bill, and have filed an official constitutional challenge.

“PSAC members in Ontario work for health authorities, counselling services, addiction centres and many of Ontario’s universities. Workers in this sector provide important public services to Ontarians. It is unacceptable that their employer, the Ford government, continues this mean-spirited attack.” said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC Ontario Regional Executive Vice-President.

Ontario says Bill 124, which was passed last year, helps to ensure that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province.

In May of 2020, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office estimated the COVID-19 pandemic will quadruple the provincial debt, to bring it to an estimated $41 billion in 2020-2021, the largest recorded debt in Ontario’s history.

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