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August 20, 2015 - Vol. 4 No. 16

New School Year Approaches

Teachers and Education Workers Valiantly Defend the Right to Education

New School Year Approaches
Teachers and Education Workers Valiantly Defend the Right to Education
Where Things Stand
Background on Negotiations

New School Year Approaches

Teachers and Education Workers Valiantly
Defend the Right to Education

As the new school year approaches, the province's teachers and education workers are striving to affirm their rights under the current conditions. Throughout the summer the unions which represent the province's teachers and education workers have spoken with one voice. Attacks on their members' working conditions in the form of demands for things such as bigger class sizes and reduced preparation time are completely unacceptable. Such attacks are also a direct assault on the learning conditions of the province's students and on public education.

The concessions the representatives of the school boards in Ontario seek to impose are a direct result of the cuts to education carried out by the Wynne government. They show that the new bargaining arrangements which were supposed to be "tri-partite" between the unions, the representatives of the school boards and the government are in fact a mechanism to have the school boards and the government push austerity in the name of "working together to find creative solutions."

Teachers and education workers have responded by standing firm on the principle that their working conditions are students' learning conditions. This has guided the unions' fight and rallied their members to stand as one against all attempts to break their ranks on the issue of working conditions. This resolve has forced the representatives of the school boards and the government onto the defensive about their proposals. It has once again exposed the government's aim to attack public education in order to free up public funds to pay the rich.

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Where Things Stand

On August 20, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) announced that its negotiators had reached a tentative deal with the government and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) for its teacher/occasional teachers. Negotiations for support staff however will continue. The deal must first be endorsed by leaders from the various OSSTF teacher/occasional teacher locals before being presented to members for discussion and ratification in September. According to reports, the agreement was reached based on the fact that the school boards backed down on various measures they demanded to attack teachers' and education workers' working conditions.

Prior to the announcement members of OSSTF had stopped any preparations for extra-curricular activities for the coming school year. According to union President Paul Elliott the process of ratification will take until mid-September.

On August 20 Elliott was quoted by the Globe and Mail at the unions' Leadership Conference in Ottawa saying the government and OPSBA "are determined to undermine our working conditions and to diminish public education in Ontario." Even though they have a tentative deal, the fight will continue, he added. "We are in a battle for public education," he said. 

The same day, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced that it was stepping up its work to rule campaign in order to pressure the government and OPSBA in advance of scheduled central table negotiations on September 1. ETFO has instructed its members not to participate in field trips, collect monies for school-related activities or participate in fundraising activities, respond to any electronic communication from the principal or vice-principal outside of the instructional day except where there is a safety issue involved, collect or distribute to students any paperwork required by the school or school board or attend open houses or "Meet the Teacher" nights outside of the instructional day. (These may occur during the instructional day.)

Speaking to the aims of the action ETFO's President Sam Hammond stated: "We will stay the course to protect teacher professionalism and teachers' ability to use professional judgment when providing instruction to students. While we have agreed to return to the bargaining table on September 1, there must be movement at the table towards a fair collective bargaining agreement that respects teacher working conditions and student learning conditions."

"[F]or six months, the government has stood silently by and done nothing to stop the attempt by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) to control every classroom at the expense of every teacher. Its demands are not about improving education for our students. They are about increasing management rights and a desire for control," he added.

Also starting August 20, teachers in the provinces' English Catholic schools have begun working to rule just as they had negotiation days scheduled with the government. In a statement concerning the union's website teachersmatter.ca informing parents about why they are taking actions to defend their rights, Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association President Anne Hawkins stated, "Parents deserve to know what's at stake in these negotiations. The way teachers are treated by the Liberal government and elected trustees affects students and the quality of public education in Ontario."

Ontario Political Forum congratulates the province's teachers and education workers for standing firm in defence of the right to education by defending their working conditions. OPF has full confidence that as they discuss any agreements put to them, teachers and education workers will continue to affirm their rights in a manner that upholds the rights of all.

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Background on Negotiations

Teachers and education workers rally at Queen's Park May 14, 2015.

Teachers and education workers have been without a contract since August 31, 2014 when the one imposed on them by the McGuinty/Wynne Liberal government expired. They have now gone almost three years -- since August 31, 2012 -- without a collective agreement that was negotiated and that they agreed to. Successive Liberal minority and majority governments under former premier McGuinty and now Wynne, with open support from the Ontario PCs, have been determined to remove billions in funds from public education in order to finance various schemes to pay the rich and they refuse to relent. They have also put in place new provincial bargaining arrangements with the aim of undermining the resistance of teachers and education workers and facilitating attacks on education province-wide.

As a result teachers and education workers have taken actions in defence of their rights to negotiate their wages and working conditions, which they are crystal clear are students' learning conditions. In other words they refuse to accept attacks on the right of the youth to education and are standing firm despite all the attempts to paint them as the troublemakers.

Last spring, in protest of the refusal of local boards to negotiate as they "waited" for central discussions to proceed under the new bargaining legislation, high school teachers in Durham, Rainbow and Peel Districts of the Secondary School Teachers' Federation waged strikes of just over five, four and three weeks respectively, all in order to affirm the right of all teachers and education workers to negotiate local agreements. These actions were eventually brought to the Labour Board by the affected school boards claiming that the strikes were actually in relation to "central" issues rather than local ones. The Chair of the Labour Board ruled the strikes to be illegal, impugning the motives of the teachers and their union and setting the stage for further disequilibrium in the sector.

Picket lines in Durham Region.

At the same time the Wynne government passed pre-emptive back to work legislation in order to prevent the local unions from "cleansing" their strikes of central issues and re-starting their strike actions. Regardless of the ruling however, teachers and education workers sought to ensure that their fight for rights could not be swept under the rug by the new Liberal majority and this was achieved. As a result of the government's refusal to affirm the right of teachers and education workers to meaningful local and central bargaining Ontario is now in a situation where all teachers' and education workers' unions have affirmed that the new school year will not be business as usual unless the government and school boards back down from their attacks.

Rally at Liberal MPP Jim Bradley's office in Niagara, May 8, 2015.

The Wynne government is now clearly exposed for all to see as a new face for the same neo-liberal austerity program of the rich which was championed by McGuinty. The problem of course for the Liberals is that while they wish to take out as much as possible from education, they also hope to deliver Ontario's voters to the federal Liberals by invoking the fear of Harper. Clearly they are in a crisis as they push their anti-social agenda while trying to persuade the working people that they are a progressive alternative to the Conservatives. This crisis is not only for the Liberals but for all those who pursue an agenda that lacks legitimacy for lack of support from the working people.


Read Ontario Political Forum
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