02/13/2013

Interest arbitration is the only legal way to settle contract disputes with essential workers who are not allowed to strike. AMO is advocating for changes to Ontario’s arbitration system to improve efficiency, accountability and transparency.
This includes police and firefighters, as well as nurses, long-term care workers, TTC workers, and most paramedics. Municipalities often encounter interest arbitration through their collective bargaining with emergency services.

The time has come
Two of the three political parties in the last legislative session acknowledged a need for changes to the interest arbitration system:

  • Last year’s budget bill included several provisions to address interest arbitration, but these all died in committee. 
  • Before the legislature was prorogued in the fall, both the opposition and the Government proposed legislative changes to interest arbitration.
It is essential that any change be the right change - making meaningful improvements to the system.  AMO is advocating for a more efficient, accountable and transparent arbitration system that better meets the needs of local employers and their unionized employees. 

Challenges
  • Efficiency
    In some cases, it can take years – even five years – to resolve a dispute under the current interest arbitration system. While some cases are completed more quickly, decisions can be prolonged by the process of naming a three-member panel, by the lack of hard timelines, and by post-hearing submissions. Both employers and their unionized employees would benefit from a more timely and efficient system. 
     
  • Accountability and transparency
    While interest arbitration is meant to consider local fiscal circumstances, the current system emphasizes replicating agreements from other communities, including large urban centres and services funded by the Province such as the Ontario Provincial Police.

    The emphasis on replicating awards from other communities means local circumstances appear to be ignored and does not fairly arbitrate the interests of local employers and their unionized employees.

    Despite the reality that each municipality is different, many current interest arbitration decisions have declared that replicating comparable agreements is the more important yardstick. 

    Arbitrators need to have a set of clear, consistent criteria for measuring a municipality’s fiscal health and must consider the total impact of proposed compensation, and then provide clear written reasons for their decision. 

    Emergency services personnel are rightly paid according to their skills, responsibilities and contribution to public health and safety. It is only right for their pay raises to reflect the economic realities of the community and to be comparable with others who work for the same municipality. 
Improving the process does not guarantee any specific outcome. However, it does ensure free, reasonable negotiations and a clear understanding of the arbitrator’s rationale for an award.