The Liberal government refuses to establish a new
equilibrium with teachers and education workers that upholds their
rights and the rights of the youth to
education. Instead the government champions the neo-liberal program
which sees education as a cost to be reduced rather than an investment
in the future and
nation-building. Its claim to be defending students' rights to finish
their year as the reason for its back-to-work legislation is a fraud,
as it is precisely the actions of teachers and education workers in
opposition to these attacks on the right to education that uphold
students' rights and the rights of all. All of is part of a nefarious
neo-liberal plan to deliver education by private monopolies, not a
public authority. This includes delivering educational content that
promotes monopoly right, not
the public good, probably publicly funded as a public-private
partnership. All of this is done in the name of
fraudulent high ideals and alleged cost-effectiveness.
Only the fight of the teachers and education workers and
the people of Ontario stand in the way of this private scheme pushed by
the Wynne government. It is a matter of public right versus monopoly
right. Teachers and education workers have a right to negotiate
and withdraw their labour by virtue of the fact that they are the
lifeblood of the education system. They are engaged in strike actions
order to defend their rights and the rights of all and no manner of
attempts to impugn their motives or "purify" their stand can cover this
up. The government's use of its arbitrary
powers and its legislative majority to dictate austerity instead of
negotiating on the basis of affirming rights is
the cause of the chaos being created in the education system and the
current actions will only make matters worse. The refusal of teachers
and education workers to submit is the basis for finding a way forward
from the current impasse. Already they are showing their spirit to
continue affirming their rights with actions outside of schools and on
social media to stand as one against government dictate.
Ontario Political Forum calls on everyone to
actively support teachers and education workers and contribute to
holding the government to
account for its attacks on the rights of all. All those who are able to
are encouraged to go all out to mobilize for broad participation in
actions called by teachers
and education workers and their unions at the upcoming Ontario Liberal
Party annual general meeting in Collingwood on Saturday, June 6, as
following weekend at the Ontario Public School Boards' Association
annual general meeting Saturday, June 13, also in Collingwood.
Rally at Queen's Park, May 14, 2015.
Liberals Table Back-to-Work Legislation
Rally at Liberal MPP Jim Bradley's office in Niagara, May 8, 2015.
On Monday, May 25, Education Minister Liz Sandals announced that she had been advised that morning by the Education Relations Commission (ERC), a supposedly arms-length body from the government, that high school students in the Durham, Rainbow and Peel district school boards were in jeopardy of not being able to complete their school year as a result of ongoing strike action by their teachers. Based on this opinion the government introduced Bill 103, the fraudulently named Protecting the School Year Act that afternoon. The legislation is expected to be passed by Thursday, May 28.
The back-to-work legislation calls for the local strikes at the three boards to end as soon as possible after the Act receives royal assent, and furthermore prohibits any participation in strike actions over central issues by the bargaining units currently on strike during the remainder of the 2014-15 school year. Failure to comply with the Act would result in fines of $2,000/day for individuals and $25,000/day for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF). Boards of arbitration are to be formed as soon as possible, and will deal only with the local issues that are in dispute through a combination of mediation and binding arbitration, which will mean taking into account a board's "ability to pay" and "the economic situation in Ontario" -- all code for austerity. These boards are to begin their hearings within 30 days after appointment and conclude within 120 days.
The legislation does not apply to teachers in the two other districts of the OSSTF who have so far been engaged in partial strike action (working to rule) since May 21 at the Ottawa-Carleton and Halton District School Boards.
The government was unsuccessful in its bid to get
unanimous consent from the parties in the Legislature at first reading
on May 25 to expedite the passage
of its back-to-work legislation which would have allowed for it to take
effect almost immediately. While the PCs said they would support the
NDP said they would not. The bill has therefore had to go through the
required three readings in the Legislature, subjected to time limits
imposed by the
government, after which it will surely be passed, given the Liberal
majority and the PCs' support for the legislation. Second reading and
debate took place on
May 26. Time allocation debate was set for Wednesday, May 27, with
on the second and third readings and probably also royal assent on
Exchange in the Legislature
Bill 103, the Protecting the School Year Act, 2015 was introduced at 1:00 pm on May 25 by Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, who said: "As a responsible government, we have no choice. We must act to protect the interests of the students. The continuation of this dispute and the resulting disruption in education and its corresponding effects give rise to very serious public interest concerns. That is why I have introduced the Protecting the School Year Act, 2015.
A statement on the Ministry of Education's website quotes Minister of Education Liz Sandals as saying "The proposed Protecting the School Year Act is essential for getting students back to class and putting them in a position to successfully complete their courses. Our government has great respect for both teachers and the collective bargaining process, but our first priority is supporting student achievement and well-being. In this case, that means introducing proposed legislation that would protect the school year for 72,000 students."
Speaking to the legislation, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said: "In reality, this Premier and this government have no respect for teachers, they have no respect for students, they have no respect for parents, and they certainly have no respect for collective bargaining. Just like with Bill 115, the government has shown that it prefers, rather, to legislate, because they are unwilling to negotiate.
"Make no mistake: This is only the beginning. This government is making it clear that it will legislate anything that it fails to negotiate in good faith."
PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop said that it was "with great reluctance that the Ontario PC caucus would be supporting quick passage of the proposed back-to-work legislation" and went on to read a statement from the party's new leader, Patrick Brown, calling on the government to "immediately fix the dysfunctional bargaining process that your government has put in place to ensure that the chaos now experienced by high school students in Durham, Peel and Sudbury will not spread to the rest of Ontario's educational system."
Education Relations Commission's Bogus Argument Hides Government's Illegitimate Agenda
Picket lines in Durham Region.
On May 25, the Education Relations Commission (ERC) sent a letter to Education Minister Sandals advising the government that it considered the school year to be in jeopardy for students at the Durham, Rainbow and Peel boards where high school teachers had withdrawn their services. The ERC, which sits at the call of the government was asked to provide this "advice" by the Minister of Education herself. In its "advice" the ERC tried to legitimize the government's inevitable move to criminalize the strikes. The Commission wrote that it "sees the teachers' constitutional right to strike as balanced by the public interest expressed in the [Education] Act that students' courses of study be capable of completion." It stated further that "the ERC is the mechanism to appraise when the public interest in the right to strike should yield to the public interest of ensuring that students have a fair opportunity to complete their courses of study."
This argument is a deliberate attempt to present the teachers' and education workers' defence of their working conditions as a threat to students' education, much like the Harper government presents its moves to violate the security of Canadians as being to protect it. What does balance have to do with violating workers' rights? Clearly if the government wanted to ensure the students finished their year they would have pressured the school boards to negotiate. However the government itself refuses to negotiate anything but attacks on education so they are clearly unwilling to call on the boards to do otherwise. Anyone can see that it is the government and school boards' refusal to back down on their austerity agenda which is resulting in more chaos in education and affecting everyone involved.
The illegitimacy of the government's use of the Commission's advice becomes clearer when one considers the timing of its request for the ERC's involvement as a prelude to introducing its back-to-work legislation. On May 15, ten days before tabling the bill, the government asked the ERC for advice regarding the students' school year being in jeopardy. At the time, the Labour Relations Board, the main body which is supposed to deal with unresolved labour disputes, was already considering an application by the Durham, Rainbow and Peel boards requesting that the strikes by OSSTF members in their districts be declared illegal. The request was based on a claim by the school boards that these local strikes were actually being waged over provincial issues and that this represented a contravention of the School Boards' Collective Bargaining Act, the new two-tiered bargaining legislation imposed last year by the Liberals.
The boards' case rested on such things as messages written on picket signs carried by teachers, as well as any and all communications between union officials and members as well as the public to prove that the local strikes were in fact about "central issues," which according to the legislation is not permitted.
That the government did not want to permit the Labour Board to rule (which it did one day later) before proceeding with back-to-work legislation makes it clear that its main goal is to crush the teachers' and education workers' resistance, rather than operate on the basis of any established norms. Instead of submitting to the process it imposed with new bargaining legislation in the sector, it wants to use its legislative powers to crush any mechanism that might block its dictate.
The Labour Board has now ruled that the strikes are illegal but that the affected bargaining units may resume their strikes in two weeks once they have "purified" them to deal with purely local issues. It is highly likely the government knew this would be the ruling and as such wanted to prepare the back-to-work legislation so that it was ready to be used to prohibit any further strikes during the school year when those teachers and occasional teachers are in a position to resume their strikes.
In its letter to the Education Minister, the ERC revealed the new arrangement for those who refuse to submit to austerity. The ERC recommended that the affected bargaining units of the three OSSTF districts and the respective school boards be allowed a fixed period of time to reach a negotiated settlement with the assistance of a mediator, and if settlements are not reached within the allotted time, that the disputes be referred to arbitration. This recommendation was incorporated into the back-to-work legislation in the form of clauses imposing interest arbitration, in which arbitrators are required to consider the "economic situation in Ontario" and a board's "ability to pay" as a mechanism for imposing austerity "agreements" without the consent of the workers. This is something that was called for in the Drummond Report for all negotiations in the public sector and it appears as if the fix was in to go this route using the pretext of students being at risk of "losing their year."
Unions Respond to Attempts to Criminalize
Support from BC teachers.
"'The Kathleen Wynne government is the same Liberal government that stripped education workers' collective agreements and collective bargaining rights during 2012. Quite clearly, the leopard has not changed its spots.'
"Hammond added that while the back-to-work legislation does not affect ETFO's current work-to-rule strike action, it is not the solution for the dysfunctional bargaining climate that the government has allowed to develop. It has been nine months since contracts expired.
"'The premier and the minister of education need to stop misleading the public by saying the current labour disputes are about money, which is a deliberate misrepresentation,' added Hammond. 'The demands of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) to control teachers' preparation time, remove fair hiring practices, and increase supervision time and paperwork are the root of the bargaining problem.'
"'Imposing back-to-work legislation is not a move forward toward resolution -- only real negotiation is. These isolated, local problems in Durham, Rainbow and Peel are becoming a province-wide problem thanks to this government's mismanagement of the situation.'"
James Ryan, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association said in response to the government's back-to-work legislation and the OLRB's ruling: "Unless the government and trustees move off of their current position, you are likely to see every classroom in the province of Ontario shut down."
High school teachers and occasional teachers who are
members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF)
withdrew their services at three boards to
pressure them to negotiate local
issues rather than simply impose the government's agenda or wait for
the government to do it at the central table. The strike at the Durham
Board began on
April 20, at the Rainbow District Board in Sudbury on April 27, and at
the Peel Board on May 4. In order to assist those locals on strike, the
OSSTF approved a
levy from all members across the province which provides up to 75 per
cent of their salary in strike pay for striking teachers. The levy was
approved at a special
annual meeting of the OSSTF's Provincial Assembly where it was passed
unanimously as a measure to deal with the government's new two-tier
legislation. This new mechanism to involve all members in the fight for
rights followed the experience of the British Columbia Teachers'
Federation in which
the government there provoked a province-wide strike that drained the
union of its strike fund.
In addition to the full strikes at three school boards,
high school teachers and occasional teachers at two other boards --
Ottawa-Carleton and Halton -- have been engaging in partial strike
action (working-to-rule) since May 21.
At the same time, since May 11, some 73,000 members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) who work as teachers and occasional teachers at all 32 of Ontario's English public school boards have been involved in "phase 1" of work-to-rule strike action, withdrawing from Ministry of Education initiatives, including all work related to Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized testing. ETFO members remain in their schools however, carrying out their instructional duties and providing extra help to students, maintaining contact with parents and carrying out voluntary extra-curricular activities and scheduled field trips.
In announcing ETFO's job action earlier in the month, President Sam Hammond stated: "Minister Sandals and her government have been willing partners with the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) in making demands that would unravel a decade of progress in creating a strong education system and strong teachers. ETFO teachers are not prepared to allow increases in class sizes, have their preparation time directed by others, or be micromanaged and have their ability to support student learning compromised.
"After eight months of bargaining, it is entirely disingenuous of Minister Sandals to plead ignorance of how these and other issues have forced us to take this strike action.
"In its first time at the central bargaining table, OPSBA has recklessly demanded numerous concessions and utterly disrespected agreements reached during the last decade of bargaining.
"The ministry needs the cooperation of our members to achieve its educational aspirations. That cooperation is now withdrawn until the government and OPSBA return to the bargaining table to address the issues that truly matter to students and teachers."
At local worksite meetings where ETFO's campaign of sanctions targeting the province was discussed, teachers cheered when they heard their union had chosen specifically to target the government and its EQAO, which they have long opposed.
No sooner had ETFO begun implementing its campaign than the government announced it was cancelling (since clarified to say "postponing") this year's EQAO testing in the public elementary schools. ETFO has said that its province-wide partial strike action is incremental in nature and will continue until bargaining issues are resolved or ETFO deems further actions to be required.
On May 26 following the tabling of back-to-work legislation against its colleagues in the OSSTF, ETFO escalated its actions, calling on members across the province not to plan field trips for next year or to participate in certain meetings or professional development programs.
AEFO members show support for OSSTF members in Durham.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) representing teachers and occasional teachers in Catholic elementary and secondary schools is currently meeting with the government and the provincial Catholic Trustees' Association over central issues. It too has a strong mandate for strike action from its members who voted on April 24 over 94 per cent in favour of taking job action if necessary.
For their part, teachers and occasional teachers belonging to L'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) who work in public and Catholic French language schools in the province will be participating in strike votes between June 2 and June 4. The Association is currently holding information meetings for its members to explain its reasons for encouraging them to vote in favour of strike action as their colleagues in other unions have.
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