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The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled the Harris government cannot seize control of the collective bargaining process, as it did two years ago, by appointing retired judges to arbitration boards deciding contracts for hospital workers and other health care workers.

CUPEs Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) hospital workers were on the verge of an illegal walkout two years ago because of the unfair arbitration process. CUPE and SEIU, with support from the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), launched the court challenge.

The government must now revert to the roster of approved arbitrators, mutually acceptable to unions and employers.

The retired judges were perceived as biased because they were appointed by the province and depended on the government for future contracts or appointments. They also lacked the expertise to deal credibly with labour relations, many of them having no experience.

Health care workers have carried the double burden of horrific increases in workload and a phony arbitration process that favoured the employer, said OCHU president Michael Hurley. This victory means that health care workers can hope for significantly better settlements now that the governments deliberate interference has been exposed and a respected arbitration process has been restored.