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Statement to the Legislature
By Charles Sousa
Minister of Labour
Regarding the Introduction of:
Fire Protection and Prevention Amendment Act, 2011

  • Issued: April 18, 2011
  • Content last reviewed: April 2011

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Speaker, I’m happy to rise today to introduce a bill to enact Labour & Employment Amendments to Part 9 of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.

Speaker, I believe all members in this House will join me in expressing our deepest gratitude to the firefighters of this province.

We want to say thank you for the important work that they do.

When others rush out, that's when they rush in.

Our firefighters safeguard our families, our homes, and our businesses.

They do it bravely, professionally, with leadership, and courage.

Speaker, you will recall that on March 10, 2011, a motion brought forward by my colleague the member for Algoma – Manitoulin was passed in this House by unanimous consent.

That motion read:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, in recognition of the role Ontario's firefighters play every day in keeping our communities safe, and in recognition of the evidence of health and safety risks to firefighters over the age of 60, and in keeping with recent Human Rights Tribunal decisions, calls on the Government to introduce legislation allowing for the mandatory retirement of firefighters who are involved in fire suppression activities in the province of Ontario.

In response to this motion the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and I asked our ministries to begin discussions with the fire sector.

Staff at our ministries took to this opportunity to sit down with fire stakeholders to discuss two ongoing issues concerning our salaried firefighters.

The first issue is mandatory retirement, and the second concerns the duty of fair representation.

When we looked at the question of mandatory retirement for firefighters we learned a great deal about current practices across Ontario.

First, we learned that the average retirement age for salaried firefighters in Ontario is 57.

We also found that approximately two-thirds of collective agreements in the fire sector have a provision setting a retirement age of either 60 or 65.

Speaker, we know that firefighters work under unique conditions.

Their work is extremely physical and unpredictable, and they often perform their duties under stressful and demanding conditions.

In part because of these reasons, human rights tribunals have generally found mandatory retirement policies to be a bona fide occupational requirement.

In light of these facts, Speaker, we feel it important to bring greater clarity to the issue of mandatory retirement in the fire sector.

Our proposed legislation, if passed, would allow a mandatory retirement age of no lower than 60 years for firefighters regularly assigned to fire suppression duties if it is set out in a collective agreement.

If there is no such provision in a collective agreement, or if there is a provision requiring retirement earlier than age 60, it would be deemed to contain a provision for mandatory retirement at age 60.

This deeming provision would not occur immediately, but would take effect two years after Royal Assent, if the Bill passed.

When we spoke with stakeholders we found that this proposed legislation reflects current practice.

Our Bill simply brings greater clarity and uniformity to this issue.

It would reflect current practice and acknowledge that age 60 is widely seen as an appropriate retirement age for firefighters.

It also acknowledges the currently available medical evidence that supports retirement from suppression duties at age 60.

The other aspect of our Bill addresses the duty of fair representation.

Unlike other unionized employees, firefighters cannot take complaints about their bargaining agents’ representation to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

In discussing this issue with the parties involved, it became clear that unionized firefighters should have access to the Board in the same way other employees do.

Speaker, quite clearly, allowing firefighters access to the Ontario Labour Relations Board is a matter of fairness.

This province’s firefighters often place themselves in harm’s way to protect us.

And they deserve our thanks.

So, on behalf of Minister Bradley and all my colleagues in this Legislature, I say to the firefighters of Ontario:

Thank you for your selflessness,

thank you for your dedication, and

thank you for your service.