High school teachers move closer to one-day job action; opposition to Bill 115 grows
Published Friday, December 21, 2012 7:21AM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 21, 2012 2:19PM EST
Ontario’s secondary school teachers have voted in favour of conducting a one-day protest against Bill 115, throwing their support behind the fight to repeal controversial legislation that they say is undemocratic.
Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation president Ken Coran said in a statement that OSSTF teachers and support workers will walkout “to show the Liberals and the Conservatives that they will not be intimidated by their cynical agenda to strip us of our democratic rights.”
Coran did not provide a date or location for the proposed walkout and noted that he would consult with the provincial executive before making a decision.
He also noted that the actions of Education Minister Laurel Broten will influence the decision.
The news came just a few hours after the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario announced new plans about possible future job action.
ETFO said Friday morning it will cease all rotating strikes and take no new strike action as long as the government does not impose collective agreements on its members.
ETFO president Sam Hammond told reporters that the one-day walkouts that have shuttered Ontario public elementary schools over the past two weeks can be avoided in the New Year, so long as Broten heeds the teachers’ call and does not impose agreements under Bill 115 .
The deadline to reach an agreement between the union and the board is set for Dec. 31.
After observing a moment of silence for the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Hammond told reporters the federation is “hopeful” that a solution to the ongoing labour dispute can be met under new Liberal leadership.
“We’re extending this offer until a new premier is put in place by the Liberal party in late January,” said Hammond. “We believe that the appointment of a new premier will provide an opportunity to take a fresh look at the current collective bargaining impasse and find respectful solutions for both parties.”
Hammond urged the government to allow the collective bargaining process between the union and school boards to proceed uninterrupted. He also said the federation would not bargain publicly.
The education minister now “has a choice,” said Hammond. “If Minister Broten decides to take precipitous action with Bill 115, that decision will trigger disruptions.”
For her part, Broten has not confirmed if she will impose contracts immediately in the New Year, or wait until after the Liberals pick a new leader.
Following the news conference, she urged the federation to secure contracts before the deadline and reminded them that they had six months to reach a deal locally before Bill 115 was installed.
“I am calling on the ETFO, OSSTF and CUPE leadership to put students first and to reach locally negotiated deals before the December 31 deadline,” she said.
Hammond stressed again that the dispute is not about wages but the controversial nature of the bill itself. He said the teachers would accept a two-year wage freeze, but feel that Bill 115 infringes on their right to collective-bargaining and limits their right to strike.
During Friday’s news conference he slammed the bill, calling it a “dangerous piece of legislation” that is undemocratic.
“Bill 115, simply put, is wrong,” said Hammond, adding that other labour and community organizers are calling for its repeal as it “threatens the rights of all working Ontarians.”
Outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty, however, has maintained that the dispute is about pay. Since he was first elected in 2003, some teachers have seen an 80-per-cent increase in their salary, he said.
He added that the Liberals have been “very fair” to teachers during the last nine years.
Bill 115, which was passed in August, imposes a two-year pay freeze, cuts benefits such as sick days and gives the government the right to impose contracts.
Meanwhile Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak told reporters Friday that his party voted for the bill to prevent strikes and he wants the government act now.
“Clearly if you wanted this law to be passed, you should use its powers,” he said.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents workers and support staff in the public and Catholic school boards, said political protests are also being planned by its members in the event that new contracts are imposed.