Brock Township Council asked to review increase to firefighter wages

Brock Township Fire Department

Members of Council,

As you continue to work toward finalizing the 2018 operating budget for The Township of Brock I would respectfully ask that you again review your budgeting of firefighter salaries and the reasoning for the excessive increases you are passing down to the taxpayers of Brock.

Notwithstanding the confusing language used in report 2018-FI-03 paragraph six which uses the term “Call-out pay” which could be confused with Bill 148’s reference to “Minimum Pay for Being on Call” (which The Township is exempt from) but rather this paragraph of The Township report is referring to Bill 148’s Section 21.3 “Three Hour Rule”.

The Three Hour Rule in Bill 148 states: “If an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day is required to present himself or herself for work but works less than three hours, despite being available to work longer, the employer shall pay the employee wages for three hours, equal to the greater of the following…”.

I would ask you to pay special attention to The Bill’s specific reference to “an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day” in this section.  Volunteer firefighters do not by definition regularly work more than three hours per day.  To automatically assign this section to Brock’s firefighters and raise the expected salaries by 50% to 70% in the budget would appear somewhat irresponsible.

To help clarify how this section may be interpreted try reading it “in reverse” where it would then state “if an employee who does not regularly work more than three hours a day is required to present himself or herself for work but works less than three hours, despite being available to work longer, the employer shall not pay the employee wages for the three hours….”.  If this “Three Hour Rule” was to apply to all hourly employees then there would be no reason to include the condition of employees who regularly work more than three hours a day.

It is my opinion, as well as the opinion of legal counsel I have spoken with, that this interpretation can be that a volunteer firefighter would not fall into the category of employees referenced in Section 21.3 of Bill 148.  I understand that you will not take my word on this so I urge you to consult the Township’s legal counsel and obtain a written opinion for guidance.

When you are considering paying the extra amounts as outlined in the budget I believe it would be worth your while to exercise due diligence here and not jump to conclusions that you are automatically obliged to pay this.  You may also wish to note that even AMO did not include this section of the bill in its submission of concerns to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in July 2017.  It may very well be that AMO did not include this section of the bill since it was obvious it would not apply to their volunteer firefighters concerns outlined in section 5 of AMO’s report.

While I also checked with the Ontario Ministry of Labour and they were generally of the opinion that should a firefighter not regularly work more than three hours a day then the provision would not apply I understand that such ministry “advice” is limited in its usefulness until tested by an officer of the Ministry.

I do understand it has been practice of the Township to pay firefighters for a minimum of two hours when called to duty and I am not advocating removing that but to increase that “guarantee” by 50% when it may very well not be required is something worth consideration.

Lastly, until The Township is assured of its obligation on this by learned counsel, something with this much uncertainty, when not even presently payable, should not be included in a current year operating budget.  Most especially in an operating budget where you are having difficulty controlling costs.  Perhaps requests could be made through AMO to have this clarified by the Province since it does not come into force until 2019.

Best Regards,

Walter Schummer

Cannington