Elementary school teachers to ‘take a pause’ on voluntary activities

TORONTO—Ontario’s 76,000 public elementary teachers and education professionals are being urged to ‘take a pause’ on voluntary activities in response the provincial government passing of Bill 115, as the teachers union feel it’s draconian legislation that strips them of their democratic rights.

“Given this extraordinary and unwarranted legislation, we are advising our members to ‘take a pause’ on the voluntary activities they undertake in schools,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in a release. “While they will remain focussed on teaching students and ensuring student safety, teachers and other educational professionals will need to consider very carefully what they can afford to do outside of their instructional responsibilities.”

ETFO is also introducing ‘McGuinty Mondays’ in protest of the legislation. Teachers and education professionals will be urged not to participate in school-based or system level meetings of any kind nor participate in regional ministry (education) meetings on Mondays for the foreseeable future.

This is the initial step in an escalating protest strategy, according to Mr. Hammond. “We do not take this action lightly. Ontarians and the government need to know that you cannot take away the democratic rights of working people simply to fulfill a political party’s agenda or ideology.”

The Ontario legislature voted to pass the controversial Bill 115 Tuesday morning. The ‘Putting Students First Act’ imposes a contract on elementary and secondary teachers across the province, as well as 50,000 support staff. The bill freezes wages, ends sick-day banking and bans strikes for two years.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation/FFESO president expressed his outrage at the passing of the bill. “The passing of Bill 115 today represents one of the darkest days in the history of workers rights in recent memory,” said OSSTF/FEESO President Ken Coran. “This government has now passed a law that tramples on the rights of education workers in Ontario, and it appears that Premier McGuinty will be targeting other workers in the near future.”

“The passage of this law is undemocratic and unprecedented, and was unnecessary,” continued Mr. Coran. “Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Hudak have thumbed their noses at democratic rights in this province. This law now gives the minister of education sweeping powers over the negotiations process and takes away the ability of our members and the democratically elected school boards to engage in a free collective bargaining process that has been successful for many years.”

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha said, “Dalton McGuinty has been desperate to create a crisis in education; one that was totally unnecessary. These are the type of game people of Ontario are tired of seeing.”

“This bill is unconstitutional and likely will be overturned by the Supreme Court, and because of that decision, and having to go through the court system, again families of Ontario will be footing the bill for millions of dollars,” said Mr. Mantha. “When you look at the million dollar e-health boondoggle, and others, we don’t deserve another multi-million dollar mistake from this government, but we have it,” he said, pointing out the NDP was the only party that voted against the bill. “In BC a similar case in the health care sector cost taxpayers $85 million; in this case there are 10 times more teachers in Ontario so this could easily cost taxpayers $780 million dollars.”

“The government is creating a crisis that was never there; the teachers had agreed to the wage freeze, and agreed to continue in the classroom and with activities, but here we are with a legislation put forward by the McGuinty Government, a manufactured crisis we will all pay for,” added Mr. Manta.

On the issue of how OSSTF/FEESO will proceed with the negotiations process, Mr. Coran stated, “we will continue to follow the rules and laws that govern the collective bargaining process under the Ontario Labour Relations act in our attempts to secure agreements with our members employers; the school boards of Ontario. We will continue with local negotiations and urge the government to stop interfering with our legal right to collectively bargain.”

“Premier McGuinty should not expect our members or the workers of Ontario to sit idly while the government strips them of their basic and fundamental labour rights,” concluded Mr. Coran.

The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives voted in favour of the bill, with 82 votes for and 15 against.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has also complained about the bill, saying it’s unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Education Minister Laurel Broten has been quoted as saying she can’t stop anyone from challenging the legislation, but she believes it will stand up in court, feeling it is constitutional, reasonable and justified under the circumstances.

The new teacher and support staff contracts imposed by Bill 115 would help eliminate Ontario’s $15 billion deficit.

Dena Morrison, chief negotiator for the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB), said “the bill has been passed and we are still looking at in terms of the impact it will have on bargaining and students, but local bargaining continues. We will be moving forward in the legislative framework, which is about all I can say at this point. We will have to see how it goes at the bargaining table.”

As for the ‘take a pause’ being recommended by the ETFO, “we haven’t received any details or planned activities by teachers of our schools at this point,” said Ms. Morrison.

“Collective bargaining rights are central to ensuring that working people are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness in the workplace. If the premier can get away with abolishing our rights, we need to ask ‘who’s next’?” said Mr. Hammond. ETFO and others plan to challenge the legislation in court.

Tom Sasvari