Province ready to discuss arbitration…now what?

Well…that escalated quickly.

In mere hours today, we went from having no negotiations planning in place all the way to the composition of the OMA Negotiations Committe being announced and Premier Kathleen Wynne announcing that the government is “committed to the principle of interest arbitration”.

Ladies and gentlemen, the game is afoot.

A few things to address right off the bat. Some have questioned what exactly interest arbitration encompasses, and whether this would meet the “binding arbitration” requirement that was agreed to at the General Members’ Meeting. Interest arbitration is a form of binding arbitration, and is exactly the type of 3rd party dispute resolution mechanism that physicians have been clamouring for. Here is a primer on interest arbitration for OMA members.

Others have questioned the timing of the announcement and why the ministry is suddenly  interested in discussing an agreement. It is likely as simple as the election drawing near. Recall that the rationale of many rejecting the tPSA was that the ministry would be more likely to improve their offer as an election draws closer. Well here’s your opening. We need to keep in mind that Wynne’s language toward arbitration was more definitive than anything we’ve heard from the provincial Conservatives.

I have also heard it argued that the OMA should not enter into any negotiations without binding arbitration mechanism in place. The simple response to this is that you need to negotiate the terms of arbitration before you can negotiate a contract. Two different negotiations: one for the framework, one for the contract. The only way to negotiate the framework is by actually….negotiating.

I think it will be important for the OMA to set a timeline for the negotiation of a binding interest arbitration agreement. The OMA cannot allow the ministry to draw the process out for months as a distraction. Tight timeline and come to an agreement on a framework, or the OMA returns to internal deliberations on job action.

My preference for binding interest arbitration? Conventional interest arbitration, where the arbitrator can make any award that they deem appropriate. I think both parties have far too much to lose if they go for a final offer selection mechanism (where the arbitrator would select one party’s proposal in its entirety). The ministry cannot afford the fiscal disaster that would come with a loss in final offer selection, and the OMA will be challenged to effectively deliberate internally to allow for many concessions in a divided membership. Conventional interest arbitration allows for the ministry to maintain fiscal balance, and allows for the OMA to maintain the faith of its members.

One small request to both parties: while the negotiating process plays itself out, I think both parties need to commit to avoiding any emotional reactions to any strikes launched from either of their disliked newspapers. Physicians committing to not reacting to any material in the Toronto Star, and the government not reacting to any material in the Toronto Sun. Let the newspapers say what they will, and let’s get down to actually finally sorting out this mess.


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