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February 5, 2013 - No. 22

New Premier: No Still Means No!

Oppose Attempts to Use Labour Board to Criminalize Teachers and Education Workers

New Premier: No Still Means No!
Oppose Use of Labour Board to Criminalize Teachers and Education Workers - Mira Katz

Defeat Those Peddling Illegitimate Austerity Agenda!
Wynne's No-Win Scenario - Enver Villamizar
Chamber of Commerce Comes Calling - Dan Cerri 

Hold Governments to Account to Defend Workers' Health and Safety
Anniversary of Hampstead Tragedy
Ontario Government Refuses to Hold Inquest into Hampstead Deaths
Farm Worker Organizations Denounce Coroner's Decision Not to Hold
Hampstead Inquest


New Premier: No Still Means No!

Oppose Use of Labour Board to Criminalize
Teachers and Education Workers

The government-imposed collective non-agreements continue to cause chaos in the education sector. The Ontario Labour Relations Board (ORLB) has now held five days of hearings to consider an application made by two school boards requesting that public elementary teachers' withdrawal from extra-curricular and voluntary activities be declared illegal strike activity. The case, which is directed against the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and its members, is being heard by Bernard Fishbein, Chair of the OLRB. Fishbein is the same official who ruled the planned one-day protest of teachers and education workers an illegal strike. The hearings began January 25 and resume on Wednesday, February 6.

School Boards' Intervention

The Trillium Lakelands District School Board and Upper Canada District School Board's application to the OLRB requests that the Labour Board declare that "[ETFO] and its officers, officials and agents have authorized, counselled, procured, supported or encouraged an unlawful strike and that its members have engaged in an unlawful strike" and goes on to request "a direction from the Board that ETFO officers, officials, or agents and anyone acting on their behalf cease and desist from calling, authorizing, supporting, encouraging or threatening to call or authorize an unlawful strike and that its members cease and desist from engaging in an unlawful strike."

The two school boards are basing their application on the fact that on January 3 collective non-agreements were imposed by an Order in Council on all ETFO bargaining units, making it illegal for teachers and education workers to engage in strike activity during the life of the non-agreements. They claim that by withdrawing from extra-curricular activities teachers are carrying out a strike.

The definition of "strike" in the Education Act is not the same as in the Ontario Labour Relations Act. Under section 277.2(4) of the Education Act:

(b) "'strike' includes any action or activity by teachers in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding that is designed or may reasonably be expected to have the effect of curtailing, restricting, limiting or interfering with

(i) "the normal activities of a board or its employees,

(ii) "the operation or functioning of one or more of a board's schools or of one or more of the programs in one or more schools of a board, or

(iii) "the performance of the duties of teachers set out in the Act or the regulations under it, "including any withdrawal of services or work to rule by teachers acting in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding."

The school boards claim that ETFO members have engaged in illegal strike activity even though it is understood that the activities withdrawn are voluntary and unpaid.

The boards say they are not asking for voluntary activities to be made mandatory, but maintain that ETFO representatives engaged in illegal activity by directing teachers to refrain from doing anything beyond the 300-minute instructional day, making the bogus claim that by so doing the union is denying teachers the "freedom" to choose what activities to engage in. Of course the reason why teachers and education workers have been withdrawing extra-curricular activities -- in response to a violation of their rights and freedoms by the government through Bill 115 and the imposition of illegitimate collective non-agreements -- is not considered by the boards or government to be a violation of teachers' and education workers' rights and freedoms, and their response a just one. This fraud is put forward in the face of all the actions that show teachers and education workers are fully conscious of what they are doing and of the attempts to criminalize their ongoing legitimate protest actions against the violation of their rights. The lawyer for the school boards even tried to claim that ETFO was leading its members, unbeknownst to them, into illegal activity.

ETFO's Arguments

ETFO began by calling into question the very legitimacy of the imposed non-agreements, arguing that the repeal of Bill 115 invalidated the imposed contracts, and that without collective agreements in place the union was once again in a legal strike position. Hence, any collective action or advice given regarding engaging in such action could not be considered unlawful.

This initial argument brought a swift intervention from the Ministry of Education whose lawyer insisted that the imposed non-agreements were indeed valid in spite of Bill 115's repeal, making any strike activity or counselling of it by a union or its members illegal.

ETFO also argued that since there were no disciplinary consequences attached to bulletins and memos sent to its members, they could not be considered as directives; rather the communications were to assist members to decide what activities are voluntary and were an expression of the teachers' right to not participate in voluntary activities.

ETFO denied the school boards' allegations that teachers' withdrawal from extra-curricular activities would have "profound consequences" for student safety, engagement and achievement.

During the course of the hearings ETFO argued that the Liberal government, in 2009 during Kathleen Wynne's tenure as Minister of Education, removed Mike Harris-era references to extra-curricular or co-curricular activities from the Education Act, preventing them being declared mandatory, thus removing the legal barrier to teachers withholding these activities. ETFO's lawyer is quoted as saying, "Once the government removed 'co-instructional activities' from the Education Act -- and also from the definition of a strike -- there was nothing to prohibit teachers from refusing to participate in these activities."

In terms of claims about individuals' actions, ETFO argued that anything lawful for an individual to do is also lawful for a group of individuals to do. If the state attempts to deny a group of individuals the right to do something a single individual has the right to do, it is a breech of the Charter right of freedom of association. Furthermore, ETFO's lawyer maintained, if Bill 115 prevented anyone from exercising their Charter rights, then the Labour Board must consider this in the hearing as well.

In other news related to the chaos unleashed by the government's use of bullying tactics and dicate to impose austerity on teachers and education workers, on February 5 the OLRB will resume hearing the "failure to represent" complaints of a number of local units and members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) against the Provincial Executive of their union for ratifying and signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) with the government on July 5, 2012 without consulting or allowing OECTA members to vote on it. The OECTA MOU, which the government falsely tried to claim had been signed by 55,000 teachers, became the template for terms and conditions imposed six months later on teachers and education workers who had not "voluntarily" agreed to them by December 31.

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Defeat Those Peddling Illegitimate Austerity Agenda!

Wynne's No-Win Scenario

A significant portion of Kathleen Wynne's victory speech was about trying to hide the crisis her party and the Legislature as a whole are mired in. Wynne made an effort to encourage unity within the Liberal Party in the face of all the big wigs jumping ship when she said, "Believe it or not, this was the easy part. Now we have the challenge that's ahead of us. And we're going to need all of us working together." She then invited all of the candidates and their campaign teams to the stage. "We're going to need to weave together a platform because we're going to have to be ready at any moment to go into a campaign. But we're also going to need all those ideas to continue to govern," she also said.

Wynne has the challenge not only to deliver the austerity agenda but to do it in a way that saves the Liberals from their crisis of illegitimacy. McGuinty's resignation was a sign of his inability to deliver on his "balanced approach" to imposing austerity on Ontarians and the prorogation was to create a pause so the Liberals could try and resurrect themselves in the face of their defeat in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election and accusations of corruption in the Legislature. Wynne has a daunting task ahead of her.

Wynne has been touted in the media for her mediation skills. In an attempt to deal with the opposition parties in the Legislature, she reached out to PC leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath, saying: "Tim, let's talk about fiscal responsibility. You care about that. So do I. Andrea, you care about creating a fair society. So do I. There's so much we can accomplish if you're willing to work with a strong, smart, Liberal government." In this way, Wynne is presenting the same notion of a "balanced approach" as McGuinty claimed to stand for. But this approach failed to deal with the sharpening of the contradictions -- namely the refusal of the workers to accept austerity. And it will be the same story for Wynne.

Throughout her speech Wynne continued to refer to the bogus Liberal "balanced approach": "This leadership race has been about rededicating ourselves to Liberal values; we must be strong and fair. We must raise our hands to embrace every opportunity. We must focus on the bottom line without letting anyone slip through the cracks. It's why we have to balance our budget. It's why we have to be steely in our fiscal resolve. [...] Because the people of Ontario don't want an election. They expect us to lead." This flies in the face of the direct experience that teachers, education workers and others have in their fight against the Liberal version of austerity. In the name of balance, the Liberals pushed the same agenda as Hudak, using the bogeyman of the Conservatives to try and hide this.

Wynne's speech also reflected an attempt to rescue the credibility of the Legislature that has been in disrepute in the eyes of the polity. McGuinty prorogued the Legislature in October, shortly after the defeat of the Liberals and Conservatives in the Kitchener Waterloo by-election and in the midst of corruption charges leveled against his government. Wynne tried to re-establish the credibility of the government and the Legislature by saying, "The coming months are about...getting back to the Legislature, getting to work, working with the opposition and demonstrating to the people of Ontario that we can govern in a minority parliament."  Then in order to make it appear that the Liberals are not a spent force, she also said she was willing to take her party into an election and to work with all of the Liberal candidates to try to recapture a majority government.

Whether in an election or leading up to one, the working class will play a vital role in opposing and exposing both the Liberals' attempts to reset their "balanced" austerity agenda and the Hudak Conservatives' "pre-emptive" austerity agenda. The organized resistance in K-W and the fight across the province against Bill 115 and the all-round austerity agenda, including the mass mobilization of workers to defend their rights at the Liberal leadership convention, are all signs that the working class is up for it and will not be diverted by attempts to liquidate its fight.

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Chamber of Commerce Comes Calling

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce recently released answers by Kathleen Wynne to questions about how she would advance the Chamber's "Emerging Stronger" agenda.[1] Wynne's answers to the questions were given before the Liberal Leadership Convention and were released two days after her selection as premier.

No doubt the Chamber released the answers to keep Wynne in check so she follows through on the austerity agenda and pay-the-rich schemes like the recent handout to Toyota. On January 23, the same day the McGuinty government repealed Bill 115 after using it to rip $2.2 billion out of public education over the next two years and billions more as years go by, the Harper and McGuinty governments together announced they are giving Toyota $34 million in public funds to build a new assembly line in Cambridge, Ontario.

As previously pointed out in Ontario Political Forum, all of the international monopolies operating in the province are members of and dominate the Chamber of Commerce. The monopolies are willing to give Wynne and the Liberals another chance to deliver their agenda for austerity in a "balanced" manner but in the event that they cannot they also have a willing Hudak to try a "pre-emptive" approach.

Most of Wynne's answers are similar to McGuinty's "golden mean" approach which uses the "need to work together" to eliminate the deficit, in an attempt to make the people accept the harsh realities of austerity. In response to a question on how to develop a twenty-first century workforce, Wynne answered: "We must [...] develop a sustainable model for wage negotiation -- a structured dialogue with our partners in the broader public sector to create innovative models for engagement and negotiation. We cannot afford regular cycles of labour instability in the delivery of our valued public services." This no doubt is code for finding ways to get workers to accept an illegitimate agenda.

The working class has already given a fitting response to McGuinty who tried in earnest to appeal to teachers and education workers to accept Bill 115 as part of the austerity agenda. As for developing a modern workforce, the working class has a different idea, and that has to do with ending the marginalization of workers from participating in the decision-making process, including building their own politics that defend their interests. They refuse to accept an illegitimate austerity agenda, regardless of who advances it.

Similarly, Wynne addressed the Chamber's agenda to "restore fiscal balance" by saying that Ontarians have to "stay the course" to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18 and "ensur[e] Ontario is a prime environment for investment." Again, similar to McGuinty, Wynne is trying to justify opening the economy to private interests while slashing spending on social programs. But workers' direct experience is that the agenda of the Liberals today and of the PCs, is the agenda of the rich who are demanding that more of the economy and its assets be put at their disposal, and the workers are saying No to it!

As a continuation of McGuinty's infrastructure projects to pay the rich, Wynne referred to the importance of the Detroit River Rail and Peace Bridge crossings and other infrastructure projects that will be vital to attract investments and as important avenues for the transportation of goods. All this points to more of the same Liberal versions of pay-the-rich schemes through propping up their own selected monopolies for big scores.

Many of Wynne's answers having to do with the economy centred on the need to continue along the path of the McGuinty government's anti-social direction. The workers movement will continue to hold Wynne and her "new" government to account.

All of Wynne's answers can be found at occ.on.ca.

Note

1. See Ontario Political Forum, June 28, 2012 - No. 39.

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Hold Governments to Account to Defend Workers' Health and Safety

Anniversary of Hampstead Tragedy


Vigil in Hampstead on July 22, 2012 marked six-month anniversary of deaths of migrant farm workers.

One year ago on February 6, 2012 eleven workers were killed and three workers seriously injured in a horrible collision in the rural village of Hampstead near the city of Stratford, Ontario. Ten of the workers who died on the job were workers living and working in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), nine from Peru and one from Nicaragua. The other worker killed was a Canadian truck driver from the area. The three survivors were also farm workers from Peru. Ontario Political Forum again sends its condolences to the families of the eleven workers who died on their loss and to the injured workers hope for the full recovery from their injuries.

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Ontario Government Refuses to Hold Inquest into Hampstead Deaths

Ontario's Chief Coroner, Dr. Dan Cass, has announced that Ontario will not be holding a Coroner's Inquest into the tragic incident in Hampstead on February 6, 2012 in which 10 migrant farm workers and a Canadian truck driver were killed on the job. The deaths and three serious injuries to farm workers occurred as a result of a collision between a truck and a van carrying migrant farm workers. Cass made this announcement on February 5, only one day before the first anniversary of the deaths and injuries.

Cass said that he had conducted a private investigation of the matter by talking to the OPP and the Ministry of Labour and concluded that a public inquest was not necessary. According to Cass it was an open and shut case of "driver error" and there was nothing to investigate. The Chief Coroner has declared that the Ontario government, the federal government and the governments of the migrant worker sending countries can all wash their hands of the matter.

This is quite different from the spin Ontario government officials were giving the matter at the time of the Hampstead tragedy when people were horrified by the multiple deaths of workers. In a statement on the day of the incident, Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said,"It's not a clear-cut accident obviously. We need to look into accountability." He said there were a lot of questions, "about the van, about the legality of the vans, about the licensing of the drivers, about the conditions of the road." Chiarelli said Ontario would consider doing snap inspections of vehicles used for transporting farm workers and licence reviews of drivers. Ontario, he said, would look into and consider pulling 15-seat vans off the road because of the number of accidents they have been involved in. The Minister also said that an inquest into the deaths and injuries might be held.

The handwringing and expressions of concern in front of the media at the time the deaths and promises of accountability and about "doing something" is all yesterday's news. The Chief Coroner is declaring that Ontario is back to business as usual despite the horrendous death toll at Hampstead. The Ontario government wants to sweep the Hampstead deaths and injuries under the rug and pretend that the health and safety of migrant farm workers is none of its business.

Deaths and serious injuries to farm workers occur frequently in Ontario and have included other incidents involving multiple deaths, injuries and illnesses. An average of four migrant farm workers are killed every year on Ontario farms but there has never been a single coroner's inquest into any of these deaths. Ontario considers migrant farm workers second class persons without rights and it has no responsibility for protecting them or even investigating how and why migrant worker deaths occur with such frequency on Ontario farms.

This indifference and irresponsibility is totally unacceptable to the Canadian workers who consider the workers in Ontario fields and farms to be part of the working class. The government must take responsibility for ensuring the health and safety of all workers and especially farm workers who are vulnerable to abuse by employers because of their lack of permanent residency and indentured labour status.

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Farm Worker Organizations Denounce Coroner's Decision Not to Hold Hampstead Inquest

The Chief Coroner announced on February 5 that he has decided not call an inquest into the February 2012 Hampstead tragedy in which 10 migrant farm workers and one Canadian truck driver died. Organizations representing migrant farm workers immediately denounced this decision.

In a statement to media, Stan Raper National Coordinator of the Agricultural Workers Alliance-United Food and Commercial Workers (AWA-UFCW) said that an inquest was needed to help bring to light the deplorable health and safety situation faced by farm workers employed in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). "There are some serious problems in the agriculture sector in the transportation of farm workers and the lack of regulations, the lack of health and safety. The coroner has the flexibility to investigate and do inquests into matters that he thinks are serious. I don't know how much more serious it can be. Ten farm workers are dead and a truck driver is dead," Raper said.

The announcement of his decision by the Chief Coroner came one day before the first anniversary of the horrible multiple deaths and injuries to workers in Hampstead on February 6, 2012. Until the Chief Coroners' last minute announcement, the Coroner's Office had spent a year stonewalling the demands of farm worker organizations for an inquest into the deaths.

Two days after the Hampstead crash Justicia for Migrant (J4MW) Workers called for the coroner to hold an inquest. "As we mourn this tragedy it is important that we take immediate steps to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again," a J4MW spokes person said. The demand for an inquest was repeated by speakers at a rally and vigil organized by J4MW in Hampstead on July 26. The rally and vigil was attended by many migrant farm workers, workers from other sectors and by people from every walk of life. People attending demanded an investigation and concrete action by the government to ensure the health and safety of farm workers.

AWA-UFCW called throughout the year for an inquest right up to time of the Chief Coroner's announcement. A statement released on February 4, 2013 said, "Workers are in jeopardy every day. They tell us of being carted around in the back of cube vans, open flat bed pickups, and even on top of food crates loaded behind a tractor. The Ontario government must not wait for another tragedy before it acts. A coroner's inquest into Hampstead is critical ... a year has passed since Hampstead. There is no excuse for further delay."

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