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Teaching unions net Bill 124 backpay as court ruling looms

Teachers in Ontario have won a significant Bill 124 backpay agreement through arbitration just days before the fate of the controversial law is set to be revealed.

An arbitration decision released Friday means both elementary and secondary teachers will see new money from the government as compensation for the three years the controversial law capped their salaries at one per cent.

The decision also finalizes the backpay for the 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees at the same rate as the two teaching unions.

The payout — the latest in a string of reopener wins for unions — comes ahead of an appeal court decision over the law.

Bill 124 was thrown out as unconstitutional at the end of 2022, with the Ford government appealing the decision. A decision on that appeal is due on Monday.

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“Our school board members will finally receive a remedy for wages that should never have been denied to them in the first place,” Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), said in a statement.

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“We will also continue to fight this unlawful legislation in court until every OSSTF/FEESO member has received a remedy for wages lost.”

Friday’s arbitration ruling gave members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the OSSTF total pay increases over the three years they had salaries capped by Bill 124 of 7.25 per cent.

The arbitration ruling comes as part of reopened discussions into Bill 124, a 2019 Ford government law that capped public sector pay increases to one per cent per year over three years.

The award for the two teaching unions breaks down as: 1.75 per cent increases for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, including the one per cent that had already been granted.

It also offers a 3.75 per cent increase for 2021-2022, including the one percent.

The unions say that compounds to a total pay award for the three-year period of 7.41 per cent.

“This arbitration award is a clear acknowledgement of the egregious, unlawful suppression of wages that deliberately undermined our members’ rights and livelihoods,” Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said.

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“The Ford government’s unconstitutional attack on public sector workers must never be repeated.”

While the province’s appeal to reinstate Bill 124 has been underway, the law has effectively been voided and a series of unions have netted backpay agreements.

Civil servants, nurses, hospital staff and faculty workers at colleges are among the groups to already have received payouts from the Ford government.

A recent announcement saw civil servants awarded an increase of 6.5 per cent over the three years their wages were frozen.

Nurses were awarded a 0.75 per cent wage increase for the year starting April 1, 2020, an additional one per cent for the following year and an additional two per cent for the final year.

It is not clear if the province would make any attempts to take that money back from workers if it wins its appeal over the legislation. A spokesperson said it would be “inappropriate to speculate on potential outcomes” of Bill 124 while it is before the courts when previously asked the question by Global News.

The two unions said the arbitration ruling gives the Ford government 60 days to get the new money to school boards to pay teachers.

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