Ontario poised to freeze teachers’ salaries with legislation

Government introducing bill to avoid ‘significant financial consequences’ for school boards and province, but teachers’ unions cry foul
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 08/27/2012

The Ontario government is introducing legislation that will freeze the wages of teachers across the province.

The proposed Putting Students First Act is “necessary legislation to secure the financial sustainability of our publicly funded education system and to ensure peace and stability in our schools,” said Laurel Broten, Ontario’s education minister.

Compensation for teachers and support staff represent 85 per cent of education spending in Ontario, the government said.

“Ontario’s economy needs certainty that, come Sept. 1, a significant number of teachers will not receive an automatic 5.5 per cent pay increase and accumulate an additional two million bankable sick days for payout upon retirement,” said Brotel. “If the salary increases and sick days simply roll over, it will have significant financial consequences for school boards and the province.”

Brotel said there had been more than 300 hours of “sincere discussions held in good faith” in the last six months. But, despite striking some agreements — including a memorandum of understanding with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) — the government said enough progress hadn’t been made.

“Ontario’s largest teachers’ union walked away from negotiations months ago never to return despite repeated invitations,” said Broten. “Other partners similarly walked away and have not come back. As a result, we must take action.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) blasted the move by the Liberal minority government headed by Premier Dalton McGuinty, calling it a “manufactured crisis” that could set a dangerous precedent for eroding the rights of all public service workers.

“This legislation goes far beyond any wage restraint or back-to-work legislation ever enacted in Ontario,” said Sam Hammond, president of ETFO. “It has potentially negative implications on sectors beyond education that also engage in lawful bargaining.”

Hammond called the content of the legislation “alarming.”

“It seeks to put the actions of this government beyond the review of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, outside the reach of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and even above the courts.”

The Ottawa-based Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CFT) threw its support behind Ontario teachers.

“A legislative 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,” said Paul Taillefer, president of the CTF. “Collective bargaining is a problem-solving process. Contracts by government decree have no place in a democratic society.”

Since the Liberal government in Ontario is a minority, it needs the support of at least one other party to pass the legislation. Conservative leader Tim Hudak has signaled that his party would probably support the legislation.

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