November 30, 2022
Outsourcing Governance to Private Interests
Education workers in Ontario are amongst the lowest paid workers with very difficult working conditions as a result of government cutbacks to public education which leads, amongst other things, to understaffing in the schools. Renewal Update has been informed that education workers are seriously considering the wage offer contained in the tentative collective agreement they have been provided to vote on. They are keeping in mind that in negotiations for a new contract, they put forward not only demands for a substantial wage increase to address wages that have been eroding over 12 years, but also to address the loss of workers as a result of the dismal conditions and pay.
To date, the government is not paying attention to this aspect, which is a problem. Meanwhile the government is paying to put what are called tutors into the schools. They are paid $24-$25 an hour by some accounts which puts a kibosh on arguments about there being a lack of funds. These "tutors" are neither teachers nor education workers. The burden is on overstretched teachers and education workers to fit them in. Being privately contracted they are not part of bargaining units and, therefore, a ready replacement force in the event of strikes or whatever the powers that be decide requires their services.
The government and the employer presented the repeal of the Keeping Students in Class Act as proof of good faith bargaining along with a new offer which moved from a $0.33 per hour wage increase to $1.00 per hour. But the demands for more staff for student services, i.e. hiring, or prep time for their members, are not addressed. The government has been cutting funds from public education to such an extent that working conditions are untenable.
A concern education workers have expressed is that the $1.00 per hour increase after inflation and taxes, is actually another year of not keeping up with inflation. Rents across the province are increasing drastically as are the cost of utilities, food, clothes, etc. The conditions show that $1.00 per hour does not address the deteriorating situation, let alone act as an incentive to attract new people into the field.
Reports indicate that the union won a rare concession from the government by getting the flat dollar per hour increase each year of the contract rather than a percentage increase. Renewal Update has been informed that this helps workers at the bottom of the pay scale the most, narrows the wage rate gap within the membership and is almost always bitterly opposed by public sector employers. It is also a measure which distinguishes the hourly paid workers from the salaried teachers and other professionals who are paid for the entire year and not laid off during breaks or summers.
Although this may be considered a "win," it is not enough to address workers' actual conditions. Besides the created division between the "lowest paid" and the "highest paid," it does not address the fact that demands for wage increases go hand in hand with the demands for improved working conditions. At this point both are required just to hold the public schools together. At present, education workers are doing the work of several workers and the $1.00 dollar an hour wage increase is not enough to sort out the problem of retaining the workers already in the system or attract new workers. The current situation is such that ironically, despite the Ford government's pretense to want to "keep students in the classroom," there are schools which do not have enough staff to permit students to attend school at all.
In other words, the system does not have enough staff to provide even the basic level of care students require. Retaining the existing staff and bringing on more is an urgent necessity which the government is ignoring completely. Working conditions are learning conditions and seriously impact the rising levels of anxiety and culture of violence which is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the school system. The privatization of learning and deteriorating conditions affect not only the workers but the student youth and their families. The government's refusal to fund the system of public education and stop using public funds to pay narrow private interests to deactivate the human factor is a social/political problem the youth and their families and the workers are taking up by necessity.
Shortly after the tentative agreement with Ontario education workers, represented by CUPE-OSBCU was announced, CUPE's national president and its secretary-treasurer issued an open letter to all education workers in which they argued "No deal contains all we seek, but we are confident the bargaining committee secured all that could be secured. It is a particularly good result following the attacks on your collective bargaining rights and your right to strike, as represented by the now-repealed, thoroughly unconstitutional Bill 28. That piece of legislation, which you pushed back, would have imposed a concessionary collective agreement and wages approximately half what your committee was able to bargain."
CUPE National has recommended the tentative agreement, saying "While you were not able to achieve all you sought in this round -- namely, funding for additional, much-needed services, we recommend acceptance of this tentative agreement alongside your bargaining committee. Your fight for better services in public education will continue in the political and community arena, thanks to the tremendous mobilizing efforts of the OSBCU.
"We are very proud of what has been achieved here, in one of the toughest rounds of negotiations in the country this year."
The workers are considering how to respond. Governments of police powers arrogantly refuse to address the material conditions workers in the public and private sector face and negotiate in good faith because they consider workers to be things which are disposable. As their union pointed out, the government now needs to hear from them directly. With their defiance which defeated the Keeping in Students in Class Act, CUPE education workers already put the Ford government on notice that this is not tenable and the workers will have none of it.
Outsourcing Governance to Private Interests
According to a report from July 2021 from Press Progress, the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company was paid $3.2 million to "manage" Ontario's 2020 school reopening. This is in addition to testimony from the commission that investigated the government's response to COVID-19 in long-term care homes according to which McKinsey won a sole-sourced contract worth $1.6 million to set up the Ontario government's pandemic command.
As most of the dealings between consulting firms and the government are secret, it is unclear exactly what McKinsey's role was and what it suggested the Ontario government do. However, a McKinsey report, titled School-system Priorities in the Age of Coronavirus, encourages school officials to outsource services to private education providers to meet the unique challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Crises can be a spur to creative problem solving," the report states. "Under the pressure of the COVID-19 crisis, school systems can take the chance to rethink some of their traditional ways of doing things."
The report suggests that to "provide more direct student support, schools can start internally" but "eventually, partnerships with external providers and nonprofits may be required."
As examples of what this could look like McKinsey points to "teacher-collaboration platforms," including a pair of private U.S. businesses called "Teachers Pay Teachers" and "BetterLesson" which sell teaching resources and services. It is of note in this respect that prior to the pandemic the Ford government had established that Ontario would use TV Ontario to produce e-learning courses which would be sold to other jurisdictions as "gold standard" courses, very much in line with the ideas McKinsey is promoting.
In addition, many school boards have begun regularly using various private web-based applications in math and literacy which require board-wide subscriptions and which collect massive amounts of academic data on students. This is taking place at a time when there is less and less public investment in the human resources required to reduce class sizes and enhance one-on-one supports for students.
The report further suggests schools "respond to the crisis by exploring collaboration" with the private sector.
"There are some things that schools can start doing now -- for example, looking for savings in areas such as utilities and transportation, and asking vendors for discounts. There is a limit to what schools and school districts can do alone however. Many will have to seek additional funds to help their students recover, whether from governments, bilateral donors, or philanthropists. Creating post-coronavirus budgets needs to be a joint process between schools, which understand the needs on the ground, and district, state, and federal governments, which may be able to provide access to resources. Collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors may become easier to achieve."
This U.S.-speak from the private sector is also very much in line with what the Ford government is doing, amongst other things, by paying parents with public funds to access private tutoring so that students can "catch-up on their learning" as a result of losses during the pandemic. Furthermore, the government now employs large numbers of "tutors" in classrooms with funds it is not putting into public education. It pays them $24-25 an hour despite the fact that they are not teachers or education workers but an additional problem both teachers and education workers have to look after. The fact they are hired privately also causes a problem of not being part of collective agreements and union life which contributes to the atmosphere of anxiety and tension in the schools.
McKinsey's website on "Education" touts its past experience "helping both for-profit and philanthropic investors deploy their capital to deliver outcomes for students, while generating financial returns for those who require it." In other words, putting the fox in charge of the hen house has become the role of government at the behest of narrow private interests like McKinsey & Company which are now operating in many countries, taking over the role of the state in providing education at a very hefty cost to "taxpayers."
The conception of societies with human beings as members whose education must be looked after so as to raise the standards and culture of the society itself and activate the human factor/social consciousness does not exist for the Ford government.
This reveals that the demands of education workers and teachers for investments in social programs like education directly challenge the direction dictated by the likes of McKinsey & Company which have usurped the state power to use public funds to pay private interests. In this respect the demand for investments in education goes against the use of the public purse for self-serving private gain.
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