The much publicized attacks on teachers and educational support workers by the McGuinty government for the last eight months have proved to be an excellent distraction from the many political issues that have dogged the provincial government since its re-election in October 2011. These attacks have culminated in the creation of a piece of legislation, inaccurately entitled "Putting Students First Act," or Bill 115.
Bill 115 has nothing to do with students, and everything to do with making the education workers of Ontario pay for a recession that they did not cause. It is about making education workers pay for the cuts to corporate taxes that have not stimulated the economy. And now, it has clearly become apparent that it is about taking away the constitutionally protected right to free collective bargaining.
In short, if the Ontario government can do this to education workers, then it can do it to any worker.
McGuinty has won the support of Progressive Conservative MPPs and their leader, Tim Hudak, to pass this legislation. The Premier has also mused about going after other public sector workers in Ontario, including the police and firefighters.
One can conclude that if McGuinty and Hudak can do this to education workers, he can do it to any worker. Private or public sector, unionized or non-unionized workers should be very afraid of this precedent.
So, what is in the legislation that should be troubling to workers in Ontario and the rest of Canada? It will take away the ability of democratically elected local school boards to negotiate fair collective agreements with their employees. Instead, the provincial government, specifically the Minister of Education, will hold virtually all bargaining power. The Minister will not be subject to any scrutiny by all MPPs in the legislature.
McGuinty and the Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, have misled the public in their full attack campaign on education workers in Ontario. Here are some facts about the dispute:
1. McGuinty asked for a two year "pause" in salaries for teachers, education support workers and from all public sector workers.
FACT: The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) recognizes the economic reality in Ontario and has accepted a wage freeze for two years. However, McGuinty has asked for a full "rewind" on wages and benefits that were negotiated fairly with school boards.
FACT: Ninty-eight per cent of eligible Ontario public sector managers received bonuses last year. Looks like some people were entitled to a "fast forward."
2. Education Minister Laurel Broten said, "This legislation would ensure that the school year starts on time."
FACT: OSSTF/FEESO members are not in a strike position nor have they ever threatened to disrupt the beginning of the school year. There are laws and protocols that OSSTF/FEESO and our fellow education affiliates are following under the Ontario Labour Relations Act. However, McGuinty wants to change those important labour rules and make up new ones that suit his agenda.
3. Education Minister Laurel Broten said that if a new deal is not reached by September 1, the previous contract will take effect, meaning wage increases of 5.5 per cent.
FACT: About 61 per cent of educational support staff and teachers will NOT get any kind of salary increase when contracts roll over after their expiration date of August 31, 2012.
FACT: The remaining 39 per cent of teachers would receive a salary increase based on an eleven year pay grid that recognizes additional training and experience gained, like many other jobs and professions in Ontario. And, for virtually all of those people, their wage increase would be far below 5.5 per cent.
McGuinty and Hudak are now teaming up to take away constitutionally protected rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms from education workers in Ontario. It is likely that this legislation will be challenged in the courts. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has already announced that it would seek intervener status in any court action and would support those who would bring such a challenge forward.
All workers in Ontario should be very afraid of the power that will be handed to the Premier and Minister of Education thanks to the support of the Liberal caucus, Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives.
However, the immediate question that one has to ask is, who will be next?
Gary Fenn is a member of the Communications/Political Action Department of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF).
Photo: John Bonnar.
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