image of a fire truck from pixabay

Fire Interest Arbitration

Backgrounder August 09, 2021

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.

Since 2013, AMO has been advocating diligently for improving efficiency, accountability, and transparency during the interest arbitration process. In 2018, there were legislative changes to improve the interest arbitration system for fire services.

Over the years, AMO has highlighted some of the inequities in interest arbitration process that 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.

In December 2018 AMO welcomed the legislative changes introduced through Bill 57 Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018. Schedule 18 of Bill 57 amended the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997. Through this legislation, the Province took action on AMO’s recommendation to rebalance the fire interest arbitration (IA) process to put the local municipal government’s fiscal circumstances more clearly within the decision-making process of an arbitrator.

AMO positively received legislative amendments towards moving to a single arbitration model rather than a three-member panel and believes that this will help get more timely decisions from an arbitrator. Administrative changes, such as requiring the arbitrator to provide written reasons demonstrating their consideration of the statutory criteria upon request, will assist in improving transparency during the IA process.

These legislative changes do not, however, determine or guarantee arbitration outcomes. Municipal employers will have to exercise due diligence and develop well researched arguments prior to the time of an IA, and make a compelling case on municipal fiscal capacity to arbitrators.

Nevertheless, it is hoped that the introduction of new criteria via amendments to the legislation creates the opportunity to establish new precedents that may undo historical patterns of arbitration awards that failed to consider important local economic factors.