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Ontario lawmakers debate bill to prevent strike at power utility

Last Updated Dec 17, 2018 at 6:50 pm EST

The Ontario government has introduced legislation that would prevent a strike or lockout at one of the province’s major power utilities, a move its says is necessary to avoid power outages over the holidays.

Labour Minister Laurie Scott says that if passed, the bill would send the dispute between the Power Workers’ Union and Ontario Power Generation to arbitration.

The Progressive Conservatives reconvened the legislature Monday — just over a week after lawmakers rose for their winter break — to table the bill that would stop job action at the utility.

The emergency session was announced in a statement Friday evening by Government House Leader Todd Smith.

The notice of a strike also came on Friday, a day after members of the Power Workers’ Union rejected a contract offer from OPG, putting them in a legal strike position as of Dec. 26.

Earlier Friday, Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the government was prepared to take any steps necessary to safeguard the province’s power supply.

The organization that manages Ontario’s power system said in a statement Friday that a strike at OPG would put the system’s reliability at risk.

“The shutdown of OPG’s nuclear and hydroelectric facilities could occur in approximately three weeks. At that point Ontario would not have the generation needed to meet consumer demand and customers would begin losing power,” the Independent Electricity System Operator said in a statement.

“The IESO will take every action available to delay and mitigate the impact… However, these actions will not be enough to prevent significant losses of power.”

The government has said a strike could cause power outages in as little as a week and Rickford said Monday that the consequences of not introducing back-to-work legislation could be “devastating.”

The move has been criticized by the official Opposition, who say the province didn’t even wait for the strike to begin before threatening to force workers back on the job.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says the province had other options available, but “went straight to the biggest hammer available, which is back-to-work legislation.”

“We’re here today because Doug Ford decided once again to meddle and make things worse,” she said. “It was wrong for Doug Ford and his government to threaten power workers with back-to-work legislation, even before they decided to go on strike.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner, meanwhile, said he looked forward to reviewing the details of the legislation and hoped it would respect the bargaining process.

 

The legislation tabled acknowledges the professionalism and and skills of the workers in Ontario’s electricity generating stations, but states that the province cannot afford a strike.

“Ontario cannot allow families and seniors to live in the dark or go without heat, especially during winter months. This serious situation requires swift and decisive action,” it reads in part.

The union, which has been without a collective bargaining agreement since March 31, said Friday that OPG’s final offer was rejected by a nearly 60 per cent vote of its membership.

The main sticking point in talks is OPG’s refusal to grant over 300 so-called “term” workers the same rights as full-time employees at the Darlington and Pickering Nuclear Plants, the union said.

The union represents over 16,000 workers in Ontario’s energy sector, including about 6,000 OPG employees.