Teachers’ unions will continue to fight for the additional safety of staff and students

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Labour board rules teachers’ complaints must be made on individual basis

ONTARIO – Four Ontario teachers’ unions have indicated that they will continue to fight for additional safety for staff and students, even as the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) dismissed their health  and safety case complaint made in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The four teachers’ unions include the Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF/FEESO). The unions’ challenge claimed a “lack of effective health and safety measures in the province’s Guide to Re-Opening Ontario Schools.”

The OLRB didn’t dismiss the claims over the evidence the teachers’ unions planned to present, but over jurisdictional grounds. Rather than addressing the claims together, the OLRB said the claims must be made on an individual basis, according to the unions. 

Eric Laberge, president of the District 3 OSSTF Rainbow Local told the Recorder on Monday, “I haven’t had the chance to look over the OSSTF response to the decision as of yet.” However, “again, I am not totally surprised with the OLRB decision—they have not been very friendly to the education sector in previous years. It is not that we were expecting a favourable response. Their decision is par for the course.”

“The OLRB’s decision means that educators must put forward individual complaints about health and safety violations, one at a time, for adjudication,” the unions said in a release. “This is not a sensible approach to the problem of the pandemic.”

The unions’ complaint addressed class size and distancing, cohorts for students and teachers, masking, ventilation and busing. They wanted class sizes set to a maximum of 20 students when two-metre distancing isn’t possible; set cohorts for student-to-staff contact at 50 and be applicable to both students and staff. The unions also wanted the School and University Reopening Standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers be used to set minimum standards for ventilation; and Ontario Public Services Health and Safety Association’s busing and transportation standards be set as the minimum standards for busing and other forms of student transportation; that all students be required to wear masks at all times during the school day; and that all standards ordered by the Ministry of Labour in respect of COVID-19 be reviewed every month for continuing compliance with the best science available at the time and updated as needed.

“Despite this decision, the four major education unions will continue to demand that the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and the Ford government protect educators, students and families from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the unions said in a release.