Years of labour peace between the government of Ontario and teachers came to an end this year. Like their colleagues in British Columbia
, Ontario teachers and support staff are complaining of unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional legislation -- the Putting Students First Act, 2012
-- that gives the Education Minister, Laura Broten
, unchallenged power to ban strikes, job actions, set compensation and benefits, and to take over local school boards who are non-compliant
. Ontario school boards are unanimously opposed
to the Act, which reduces their power, and so are teachers and support staff, who feel the government is manufacturing a crisis
. Most see this as a cynical ploy to capture public support for two by-elections
this week that could nudge the Liberal government into majority status. ETFO and OSSTF, two of the teacher unions involved, have repeatedly pointed out that "the school year is not in jeopardy"
, that they had already accepted a wage freeze, and that local bargaining is proceeding well.
As legislation looms aheads, teachers, support staff, and labour activists are wondering: is this the end of collective bargaining for the public sector?Critics
have called the PSF Act "unconstitutional" and "unprecedented" on the grounds that it puts itself above judicial review: no "decision, approval, act, advice, direction, regulation or order made by the Minister or Lieutenant Governor in Council under this Act shall be questioned or reviewed in any court.
". This includes challenges under the Labour Act
and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
, which otherwise enshrine collective bargaining as a right.
The Act is expected to pass this week with the support of the Progressive Conservatives, after only 4.5 hours of public hearings
. In response to the impending legislation, thousands of teachers, support staff, and union supporters rallied
at Queen's Park on Tuesday, August 28
. Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, has promised to support the bill
, even though he claims it does not go far enough in imposing a complete public sector wage freeze. Nonetheless, "If you get half a loaf, you take it".
Premier McGuinty offers his thanks
. The New Democrats, meanwhile, are opposed to anything that restricts collective bargaining
and their leader, Andrea Horwath, warns that “Dalton McGuinty knows that an unconstitutional wage legislation scheme will end up costing the public billions when it’s eventually over-ruled by the Courts."
The major players:
- currently forms a minority government
- have pledged to suppor the bill (generally considered right-wing)
- a left-leaning, labour-friendly party that is opposed
- the union representing 60, 000 public high school teachers and support staff
- the union representing public elementary teachers
- the union for Catholic teachers; they were the first to accept
the government's plan, much to the dismay of the other unions and the Catholic school boards
- the union of French teachers; they quickly followed OECTA
in accepting the government's terms