Court upholds arbitrator’s imposition of 24-hour shift for firefighters, despite city’s safety concerns

In a previous post, we reported that an arbitrator had accepted a union’s request to impose 24-hour shifts for the City of St. Catharines’ firefighters, in spite of the city’s safety concerns.

A court has now upheld the arbitrator’s decision.  The court held that the city’s concerns about health and safety risks and operational considerations were not supported by evidence of actual problems with 24-hour shifts.  The court also decided that it was reasonable for the arbitrator to consider the fact that 82% of all firefighters had “adopted and/or adapted to” the 24-hour shift, even though only one third of fire services had adopted the 24-hour shift.  (This was because many of the largest fire services had adopted the 24-hour shift but many of the smaller fire services had not).

The evidence before the arbitrator was that firefighters in St. Catharines had gotten uninterrupted sleep during 80% of their night shifts.  Further, the evidence suggested that it would be rare that a firefighter would not get any sleep during a 24-hour shift.  As such, the arbitrator decided that the city’s concern that firefighters would be sleep deprived, and that the sleep deprivation would compromise safety, was not justified.

The Corporation of the City of St. Catharines v The St. Catharines Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, 2015 ONSC 6046 (CanLII)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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