Ford government appeals Ontario court decision striking down Bill 124

The Ontario government is appealing a court decision that struck down a law limiting wages for public-sector workers.

Province argues judge erred in ruling that Bill 124 infringes on applicants' rights

Mask-wearing protesters rally outside the office of Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod. They were demanding the Ontario government repeal Bill 124. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The Ontario government is appealing a court decision that struck down a law limiting wages for public-sector workers.

In the notice of appeal filed in Ontario's top court on Thursday, the province argues the judge erred in ruling that Bill 124 infringes on the applicants' rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

 In his decision on Nov. 29, Justice Markus Koehnen deemed the law unconstitutional.

Groups representing several hundred thousand public sector employees had challenged the constitutionality of the 2019 law that capped wage increases for Ontario Public Service employees as well as broader public sector workers at one per cent per year.

As part of the decision, Koehnen said Ontario has not explained why it was necessary to infringe on constitutional rights to impose wage constraints while at the same time providing tax cuts or licence plate sticker refunds more than 10 times larger than the savings from the wage-restraint measure.

OFL outraged by government's decision to appeal

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) said it's outraged by the government's decision to appeal.

"Bill 124 has severely impacted workers' living standards and worsened issues like the staffing crisis in our overburdened health-care system," OFL president Patty Coates said in a news release.

"Right now, the Ford government should be focused on taking meaningful action to address the simultaneous cost-of-living and health care crises in this province. Instead, they are choosing to spend public dollars to fight workers in court," added Coates.

Registered practical nurses, PSWs, hospital cleaners and others held a media conference and delivered postcards to the Ontario government in November calling for the repeal of Bill 124 that cuts their wages. (Susan Goodspeed/CBC)

The Ontario Association of Nurses called on Premier Ford in a news release to "stop attacking nurses and health-care workers."

"He should have done the right thing and accepted the court's clear decision. Now, hundreds of thousands of public dollars will be wasted fighting workers in court," said the association.

The union for health-care workers, SEIU Healthcare, also responded by saying the government's decision to appeal further undermines health care in Ontario.

"Premier Ford's anti-worker decision to appeal the ruling of Ontario's Superior Court, which last month overturned Bill 124, is an attack on people serving on the front line of care that will further damage health-care delivery and cause already record wait times for health services to grow longer," president Sharleen Stewart said in a news release.

Meanwhile, the Ontario NDP said in a news release all Ontarians are paying the price for Bill 124 and  "Doug Ford must back down from appealing that decision."

"All Ontarians have paid the price for Ford's wage-capping Bill 124 — just look at the staffing crises that have hit our hospitals and schools as workers have left because they felt disrespected, overworked and underpaid," added the NDP.

The province had argued the law did not infringe constitutional rights, saying the charter only protects the process of bargaining, not the outcome, and said the bill was a time-limited approach to help eliminate the deficit.

On Thursday, Andrew Kennedy, spokesperson for  Attorney General Doug Downey, told CBC Toronto, "As this matter remains before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

With files from CBC News