Skip to main content

In a move welcomed by small-town mayors but decried by labour, Ontario’s provincial government will make it easier for firefighters to engage in “double hatting,” the practice of doing extra duty for another fire hall.

The change is among the measures proposed by Bill 57, the legislation tabled Thursday to implement Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s fiscal update.

The bill also changes the way arbitrators determine wage settlements for firefighters, answering complaints by municipal governments that salaries for fire personnel were rising too quickly.

The two issues had been raised at last August’s conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, where Labour Minister Laurie Scott signalled to mayors that she was sympathetic to their concerns.

The long-standing issue flared up in the past decade in towns such as Innisfil, Caledon or Halton Hills as communities around Toronto have expanded and had to supplement their fire halls with part-time double-hatters who already had full-time jobs at other fire departments.

To encourage the unionization of those part-time posts, the International Association of Fire Fighters has put double-hatters on trial before a union tribunal, where they were convicted, suspended and slapped with fines. Now, under Bill 57, unions can no longer discipline members who work as double-hatters.

“That was good news for small towns across Ontario,” Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson, an AMO board member, told The Globe and Mail.

Minister Scott said in an interview that there was a double standard affecting small communities. “It didn’t seem correct that this was allowed, that someone on their own time wasn’t allowed to volunteer in their community.”

District 13 IAFF vice-president Fred LeBlanc said, however, that the double-hatters weren’t volunteers but members moonlighting without union protection.

He said double-hatting puts a burden on larger fire departments for training personnel who do extra duty elsewhere, while the original employer is still on the hook for benefits or medical costs.

He added that double-hatters are also put in a difficult position when there are major emergencies, such as ice storms, where both their main and secondary employers are deployed. “It’s very ill-conceived. They are not seeing the forest from the trees on this,” Mr. LeBlanc said.

He was also critical of the proposed change to the arbitration system that resolves contract disputes for firefighters. “We have to have faith in the system because we don’t have the right to strike,” he said.

Mayors and fire chiefs have long complained that arbitrated wage hikes to police and firefighters have outpaced those of other municipal workers.

AMO executive director Pat Vanini said that arbitrators fail to take into account the circumstances of local governments, such as a community’s capacity to pay for wage increases.

Bill 57 now requires arbitrators to consider factors such as other collective agreements in the same municipality, the economic health of the municipality and “any local factors affecting the community.”

Ms. Vanini said an AMO analysis shows that Ontario towns and cities would have saved $72-million if fire personnel had been handed wage increases similar to those received by other municipal employees from 2010 to 2014.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe