August 2018
Backgrounder
Emergency services workers – police and firefighters – are valued municipal employees who ensure community health and safety in all Ontario municipalities. Because these essential workers are not allowed to strike, the collective bargaining process relies on arbitration to resolve differences if a settlement cannot be reached.

Current inequities in interest arbitration cast a shadow over all collective bargaining with emergency services:
  • Many arbitrators do not take into account the economic circumstances of a local municipal government and its fiscal health, despite legislation that requires them to do so.
  • Awards are often based on comparisons to provincial, not regional, emergency services. This is particularly difficult for small, rural and northern Ontario municipalities who do not have the tax base of large urban centres.
  • Recruitment and retention awards that were introduced within the Greater Toronto Area have been awarded throughout all of Ontario, driving up costs and defeating their purpose.
As a result of arbitration awards, emergency services costs across Ontario are rising faster than other municipal services, the cost of living and the rate of inflation. These disproportionate increases stretch municipal budgets and draw funds away from other vital programs and services.

AMO analysis has found that if police and fire personnel had received the wage increases as other municipal employees from 2010 to 2014, the cumulative savings would have been $485 million. This includes savings of $72 million in fire service and $111.6 million in police service for 2014 alone. This analysis demonstrates just what the current interest arbitration system is costing the municipal sector.

Emergency services labour costs have become a substantial portion of a municipality’s budget. AMO asks that arbitration criteria be implemented so that it includes the economic and fiscal impact of an arbitrator’s decision.

In 2013, AMO proposed changes to the arbitration system that would:
  • improve efficiency;
  • improve accountability and transparency of decision-making;
  • more accurately assess a municipality’s fiscal health.
These improvements can be achieved by making changes within the existing legislative framework, and in a manner that complements the existing interest arbitration process. We were disappointed by the minor legislative changes made by the Wynne government in 2016. We will continue  to work with municipal leaders on labour relations, such as the Emergency Services Steering Committee (ESSC), to advocate for improvements to the arbitration process that address the municipal sector’s concerns in future provincial legislative amendments.