Today Jim Wilson, MPP tabled a Private Members’ Bill concerning interest arbitration titled the Public Sector Capacity to Pay Act, 2013.

This represents the fourth piece of attempted legislation by various parties during the last 12 months. This Bill’s Second Reading debate is scheduled for April 11, 2013.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) believes this Bill holds significant improvement to all the previous legislative attempts. It reflects the balance and many of the practical changes that we’ve put forward to members of the Legislature. AMO’s proposals are not designed to provide a guaranteed outcome. We have proposed tools for arbitrators to use when measuring fiscal health and we are stating the perfectly reasonable expectation that they should demonstrate in writing how they came to their decisions, whatever they are. How can transparency and accountability be criticized? Taxpayers deserve accountable and transparent decisions when tax dollars are being spent. This is true for arbitrators who decide what the pay and benefit awards will be for emergency services workers where matters cannot be resolved locally.

Over the years, arbitration awards that replicate decisions with a ‘one size fits all approach’ have not been reflective of, nor grounded within, the local economic realities of Ontario’s varied communities. Worse, they have outpaced negotiated, local agreements with other unionized employees, generally, and within individual municipalities. Arbitrated settlements should be comparable to the outcomes that result from free collective bargaining for employee groups that can strike, particularly at a time when public sector unions recognize local economic challenges and reach freely negotiated settlements.

AMO is encouraged by this Bill.  For it to proceed, it will need the cooperation of the government and opposition parties.  AMO is calling on our provincial legislators to roll up their sleeves and move this Bill forward.  AMO remains committed to facilitating these conversations. Municipal leaders support interest arbitration changes that put balance into a system that is out of balance and one that is not accountable or transparent.

Attached is AMO’s chart which compares our proposal to this Bill and the draft government bill of last October. The latter was released for discussion before the House was prorogued and Premier Wynne’s government began. In February, we presented to all MPPs our checklist of what changes should be made to the interest arbitration process to the Legislature.

Two areas that are problematic in this Private Members’ Bill relate to the timeline for decisions and a more elaborate appointment process for arbitrators. In keeping with our recommendations, the Bill provides for a single arbitrator for all interest arbitration hearings, rather than a three member panel for fire.  A single arbitrator approach has proven to be efficient and fair.

The Bill’s proposed changes to pre and post hearing procedures reflect our input.  The Bill requires written reasons for an award and a clear explanation of how a community’s fiscal health was considered, using meaningful criteria.  The criteria reflect those we developed in partnership with the Ontario Municipal Finance Officers’ Association.  Arbitrators will still have the ability to look at comparable communities, but they cannot ignore local circumstances.

We frequently hear that emergency service workers should be paid at a higher scale than other municipal workers because of their responsibilities and risks.  This is already recognized in salary grids and this will continue.  Collective bargaining will continue and when necessary, interest arbitration will be used.

AMO calls on municipal leaders across the province to raise the importance of these particular changes with their MPPs and constituents and to demand that the Legislature come together to work on this important legislation – to bring fair and balanced improvements that are in Ontario’s best interests.


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