Ontario students rally against labour strife in schools
Published Thursday, December 13, 2012 1:56PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 13, 2012 9:17PM EST
Hundreds of students rallied outside Queen’s Park on Thursday to protest the ongoing labour dispute between the province and Ontario’s public school teachers.
Participating students said the protest was meant to express their dissatisfaction with the ongoing labour strife and recent cutting of extracurricular activities.
The students want the government to roll back Bill 115 -- the recently passed bill that is at the heart of the dispute.
Public high school teachers have stopped voluntary, unpaid activities including coaching teams and leading clubs, in response to the bill. They’ve also stopped any unpaid administrative duties.
Under Bill 115, the provincial government has the power to stop strikes, impose new collective agreements and freeze wages and benefits.
Students said that the rescinding of extracurricular activities is hurting them.
“Our students have the right to learn before and after school, the right to play basketball, have a prom, eat breakfast at breakfast club and have fun in the gym after school,” said student Braxton Wignall.
“I have learning disabilities and I need a lot of help from teachers to get ahead and go to post-seconday,” said one male student.
Student trustee Kourosh Houshmand said the students want to have more say in the matter.
“We call on the minister (of education), Sam Hammond of ETFO and Ken Coran of the OSSTF to sit down and talk and engage in a meeting with the student leaders,” he said.
Earlier this week the OSSTF said if the union and the government fail to reach an agreement there could be up to two years of work-to-rule action.
York Region public schools empty as teachers strike
Meanwhile, public elementary school teachers hit the picket line in York Region Thursday, marking the first time that rotating one-day teachers’ strikes affected the Greater Toronto Area.
More than a thousand teachers rallied in front of the York Region District School Board office in Aurora, Ont. Several others protested in front of MPP offices across York Region.
Teachers also set up picket lines in Renfrew, Ont., and in the surrounding “cottage country” region.
David Clegg, who leads the York Region chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said teachers have effectively been forced out onto picket lines.
“The reality is that Mr. McGuinty and his government, through Bill 115, has destroyed the local bargaining process and pushed us to this really difficult decision,” he told CTV Toronto.
If the dispute drags on, Clegg added that teachers are willing to go further than one-day strikes.
“They gave us a 98-per-cent strike mandate,” he said. “They want a locally negotiated settlement and if one day isn’t enough, they’re prepared to do certainly more than that.”
It’s unclear how the province would respond to a prolonged strike. When she permitted one-day strikes, Education Minister Laurel Broten noted that she had drafted legal documents to end any longer job action.
She did not, however, elaborate on the content of the documents.
Speaking to CTV Toronto on Thursday, Broten said allowing one-day strikes was a difficult decision.
“But I think Ontarians expect their government to find a balance, to take a balanced and reasonable approach, and we believe we’ve found the right balance,” she said.
Meanwhile, parents were left scrambling to find accommodations for children.
Parent Kevin Krempulec said it’s tough to make alternate arrangements in a two-income household, especially at such a busy time of the year.
“Both my wife and I work, so it’s a difficult time for either of us to be at home right now,” he said.
Unlike other boards, the York Region District School Board decided to leave schools open, with administrators and support staff watching children. Even so, parents were strongly encouraged to find alternate care, and few students actually showed up to class on Thursday.
Instead, many parents dropped their children off at one-day strike camps, arranged to help parents in a pinch. One of those businesses, Canlan Ice Sports, hosted a one-day hockey camp.
“We just thought, ‘what a great opportunity.’ I know that the parents are going to be looking for some care for their children and what better place to go than the rink and have a good time,” Dennis Treacy, of Canlan Ice Sports, told CTV Toronto.
The York Region strike has affected roughly 80,000 elementary school students.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Naomi Parness and Janice Golding