Drummond Report: Will Ontario health professionals again be Alberta Bound?

While the Drummond Commission talks about the need for recruitment and retention of health professionals and “leaders”, much of the rest of the Commission’s labour relations recommendations may send health professionals off in search of greener pastures.

Drummond avoids the question as to what happens when Ontario brings down the austerity hammer while other provinces, such as Alberta, are rushing to enhance their health systems? Simple logic would suggest that doctors, nurses, lab techs, therapists and other professionals in high demand may all be learning the lyrics to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Alberta Bound” real soon.

Is this where McGuinty really wants to go after creating HealthForce Ontario to plan HR needs?

Drummond says wage freezes are ineffective because of the catch-up that follows, but recommends the government provide a zero budget increase for wage costs, forcing employers to find efficiencies to offset any settlements above zero.

This is a continuation of McGuinty’s wage restraint plan. The question is, will workers tolerate it to 2018? Not likely.

The Commission also goes after bumping rights, suggesting they impede efficiency. While they call for modifications, they never explain how losing experienced workers in favour of new workers would actually enhance efficiency. This does encourage employers to usher out workers who are at the top of their scale in favour of those who have yet to earn any of the benefits of seniority.

Whereas most health care providers do not have the right to strike, the system defaults to binding arbitration when the two sides fail to come to an agreement. While this has served the province reasonably well, Drummond is suggesting the system should be stacked a lot more in favour of the employer.

That includes challenging the independence of the process by creating a tribunal to “maintain and manage” a roster of arbitrators. How can you be “independent” if you have to answer to a tribunal? This is a clever ruse intended to put pressure on arbitrators to come up with decisions that better suit public sector employers.

If that’s not enough, Drummond wants to “develop specific and well-defined objective criteria that interest arbitrators would be required to account for in formulating their awards/decisions.” The Commission report goes on to suggest “ability to pay” criteria should be broadened to include economic and fiscal environment, and productivity criteria.

Having rigged the process, Drummond then feels more amalgamation and privatization would be possible given there would be less of a concern over successor rights. In language that may not have been out-of-place in the Caterpillar board rooms, Drummond reminds us that “inherited agreements do not live forever; provisions can be accepted initially and bargained differently when they come up for renewal.”

The Commission recommends reducing the number of bargaining units, particularly in the broader public sector. He never explains how this fits in an increasingly privatized environment that might be reluctant to have an external body determine how much workers get paid without taking into consideration their desire to expand profit margins.

In bargaining he expects public sector employers to negotiate for flexible arrangements to allow for the movement of people and the ability to “address underperforming employees and areas that are no longer priorities or where the service could be provided better by another entity.”

Despite all the talk of restraint, Drummond wants to provide “leaders” – including managers – with “appropriate incentives” through the reward structure. He specifically says the temptation to suspend managers’ bonuses during restraint should be resisted.

In fact, he calls for “significant bonuses” to managers who are seen as exceeding their job requirements. He points out health care as one sector that has already implemented performance incentives.

Of course, the question arises who sets the criteria for the managers to achieve such bonuses. Recently we discovered that some CEOs did not even have to meet the previous year’s performance levels to claim a bonus.

Clearly, Drummond has not forgotten his comrades in the one per cent.

5 responses to “Drummond Report: Will Ontario health professionals again be Alberta Bound?

  1. We have to stop this constant bickering.

    Drummond calls for a zero budget increase to reduce spending. We all know this will only lead to chopping frontline staff, services and hospital beds. The people employed will be making great money, but there will be more and more unemployed leading to poorer patient care.
    We all should know this has to be a shared sacrifice. People at the top and all the way down should be making less demands. Increased cost of living (COLA) is one of the reasons everyone gives for demanding increased wages, but we should realize a big reason for increased cost of living is every increasing wages.
    Won’t someone step up to the plate and make a shared sacrifice.
    Drummond should have had the courage to put this in his report.

  2. Pat — It is no surprise that you would offer to make such incredible sacrifices. Our experience is that our health care members often place their patient’s care before their own interests. We will leave it up to others to comment on whether they could also afford such significant wage sacrifices for much of the rest of the decade. Many of our members may not be in the same financial situation as you. However, we do take issue with the idea that drawing attention to such recommendations and pointing out their flaws is “constant bickering.” Originally the HCDC newsletter was called “Dialogue” to foster just that. Our BLOG has always been intended to be a forum to air ideas, prompt debate, and hopefully push for change that works for everyone, including our patients. If you look through past comments to our stories, they have come from hospital CEOs, organizational leaders, researchers from think tanks, representatives from community groups, and our own members on the front lines of the health care system. We are trying to connect people and ideas together, not “bicker.” Isn’t this what democracy should look like?

    • Thanks for the return comment, but from my perspective it seems to me the top CEOs are never willing to take any kind of a reduction or freeze in their outrageous salaries. At the same time I never hear unions offering to freeze or reduce their ever increasing wages, which also contributes to the snowballing cost of living increases.
      I am not criticizing employees concern for their patients.
      Someone has to break the impasse and agree to reduce their demands so that we all can financially survive. There are a lot of people, such as myself, who are not covered by union or high wages.

  3. Actually Pat, you are wrong on several of these points. CUPE 416 did offer a freeze in the most recent round of bargaining with the City of Toronto. Public Sector CEOs have been subject to the same freeze provisions as the non-union public sector workforce. Most public sector union wage settlements have been very modest, many substituting lump sum payments in lieu of real wage increases. Unaffected are the CEOs of for-profit companies, many of whom earn much of their revenue from public sector work. In fact, these folks don’t even have to report their earnings on the Sunshine list. We don’t see the wealthy offering to pay the same rate of taxation on their income as those who earn their living from going to work. Inflation has been fairly low, although rising energy prices could change that scenario very quickly, not wage settlements. The current public deficit pressures didn’t come from high public sector wage settlements, but from a severe recession prompted by an irresponsible and under-regulated financial services industry. But we know who is being asked to pay for it. The question is, are we really “sharing” the pain, or is the public sector being asked to carry the can for something it was never responsible for? And when the jobs are eliminated, its going to be much more than public sector workers that are affected. Think about it next time you are waiting in emerg.

    • I am not blaming just unions for the high cost of living. It is a complex problem and everybody can share blame…..the rich using loopholes to not pay what they should…..corporate greed…..people gaming the system and I believe the out of control union demands have contributed. Talk about high energy costs and check to see what the pay scale is at Ontario Hydro or Hydro One.
      In 1955 I worked 40 hours a week for $25. Mind you a new car could cost around $4,000. What do GM workers make? I hear anywheres from $35 to $70 per hr, depending on whether benefits are included. If you don’t work for a union you’re lucky to make $10 per hr. if you can find a job.
      I believe unions are necessary, but we have to find a proper balance.

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