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Canada: teacher unions’ demand fair collective bargaining process

Canadian educator unionists have condemned the Ontarian liberal government’s ultimatum for local teachers’ unions and school boards that has both sides of the conflict currently in a stalemate. Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten said that if the teachers' unions and school boards do not sign the proposed new deals by 1 September, their wage increases will be frozen.

A new bill on teacher status

On the table is the proposal that educators sign a new contract with the Ontarian Ministry of Education. This contract, to be enshrined in a bill, would implementa two-year wage freeze, a delay to pay-grid raises for all young teachers, a reduction in the number of sick days per year from 20 to 10, and an end to terms that allow teachers to bank unused sick days and cash-out at retirement.

The bill would require teachers’ unions and school boards to agree to use those terms as the framework for their negotiations and it imposes a deadline of 31 December.

Minister Broten has threatened to nullify the contractual 5,5 per cent wage increase for all educators that will take effect after September if teachers’ unions and school boards do not agree to sign the new contracts. The bill, if passed, will also allow the Government to ban organized demonstrations in the future.

Some local educators are open to the wage freezes, but want the Government to take all other provisions out of the bill; others are opposed to the bill entirely. The Government has refused to modify the bill, and the trade unions consequently responded by withdrawing from negotiations.

Collaborative consultation needed

Local educators feel that the Government should either honour their initial contracts or be more open to a collaborative negotiation concerning the proposed bill. The Ontarian liberal Government’s firm stance on implementing all measures proposed in the bill has prompted an official end to its previously warm relationship with local educator unionists.

Respect for teachers' right to collective bargaining

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has released a statement regarding the current situation between the Ministry of Education and Ontario’s local educators: “Bargaining in public, hiring bankruptcy lawyers to lead the negotiating team, threatening unions for declining to participate in voluntary talks, setting out terms with no real opportunity to negotiate; all fully eight months before contracts are set to expire— is this how Canada’s largest province hopes to succeed in gaining support from its public-sector unions to address its economic challenges? This isn’t collective bargaining and it certainly isn’t respectful of the working people who have delivered quality public services like education.”

Canadian collegues in solidarity with Ontario teachers

“The 200,000 teachers of Canada raise their voices in support of all their Ontario counterparts in their struggle to secure their rights to fair collective bargaining,” said Paul Taillefer, President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), one of EI's national affiliates.

“A legislated settlement, as the McGuinty government proposes represents an abuse of its legislative authority and interferes with collective bargaining that, in some cases, has yet to begin.  It is an affront to every teacher in Canada,” added Taillefer.

The CTF President urged the Premier of Ontario to renounce this legislation and permit the parties return to the bargaining table in good faith: “Collective bargaining is a problem-solving process. Contracts by government decree have no place in a democratic society.”

CTF has also urged teacher organisations across Canada to show their solidarity with their Ontario counterparts:  “An attack against one Member organisation is an attack against us all,” concluded Taillefer.

Ontario had also previously been praised early this year by the Education Week blog, linked to one of EI’s U.S. affiliates, the National Education Association (NEA).   The blog celebrated Ontario’s gains in student achievement attributed to improvements in teachers’ skills, which were made through a joint venture between the Province's liberal Government and teachers' unions to upgrade reading and math instruction.

Governmental attitude detrimental to local public education

EI urges the Ontarian liberal Government to consider the detrimental impact that a deteriorating relationship with the local educators will have on Ontarian public education:

“We urge both sides of the conflict to re-engage in negotiations of the bill without freezing the contractual wage increases and limiting the collective-bargaining rights of Ontario’s local educators,” said EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen. “The Ontarian Government must not use the economic crisis as a pretext to enforce deep cuts in education spending, and disregard educators’ trade union rights, including the right to collective-bargaining.”

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