Ontario’s labour dispute: What’s happening now? What will happen next?

Our news & views

December 14, 2012

There are threats and counter threats coming from all sides in the current education dispute. People want to know what it all means.

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How did we get here?

Across the province, contracts for teachers & support staff expired on August 31st.  The province – saddled with an approximately $15 billion annual deficit – proposed freezing salaries for two years and mandating that teachers, support staff, principals and vice-principals take up to 3 unpaid days off.

The province instituted a step-by-step process for settling new contracts:

  1. At the provincial level, unions were asked to sign onto a provincial “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) outlining contract terms.
  2. Each of the 72 school boards and their local unions had to agree on individual contracts.
  3. The Minister of Education had to approve each contract.

How many boards have settled with their teachers?

So far, agreements have been ratified (negotiated and voted on) with some teachers in some Catholic boards and in one Public board (with high school teachers), but the majority of boards, including Public, Catholic and French, have not reached ratified agreements with their teachers.

Are all the teachers going on strike?

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) recently completed a series of one-day strikes (full withdrawal of services) in the province’s 31 English public school boards.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has held strike votes, but has decided at this time to limit job action to withdrawal of some services inlcuding extra curricular activities, with no full strike planned.

The provincial executives of the English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) signed on to an agreement with the province, but no local French and only some Catholic teachers have reached agreements with their boards.

No job action is threatened in French or Catholic boards.

ETFO members are now “working to rule.” What does that mean?

When teachers work to rule, they fulfill their classroom duties but nothing more. Working to rule is a form of strike action and cannot continue after contracts are imposed. Many OSSTF locals have begun “job actions” which have a similar effect.

Other aspects of “work to rule”may include:

  • No staff, committee, division, school team or School Improvement Plan meetings
  • No board professional development activities
  • No individual reading, writing, or mathematics diagnostic assessments unless deemed necessary by the teacher
  • No completing or verifying of attendance registers, no filing or sorting of documents for OSRs, no collecting of monies
  • No acting as a volunteer administrator in charge when the principal is away
  • No participating in any EQAO-related activities
  • No participating in any Ministry initiatives connected to the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat/Student Success/Learning to 18
  • No parent interviews outside the instructional day
  • No field trips, play days, or class excursions
  • No voluntary/extra-curricular activities
  • No detailed comments on report cards
  • No distributing ministry memos re: the work to rule or labour negotiations to students/parents.

Does Bill 115 just affect teachers?

No. Support staff in all of Ontario’s school boards will also have contracts imposed on December 31st. These include educational assistants, school secretaries, library technicians, administrative staff, custodians, early childhood educators, instructors, community advisory staff and food service workers. These staff are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which has announced it too may hold one-day “protests” in the new year.

What is going to happen next?

There are some possible scenarios:

  • On December 31, the Minister imposes contracts(as allowed under Bill 115) on the province’s public, Catholic (the ones which haven’t already ratified) and French school boards and employees.
  • In the New Year, teachers and support staff engage in a provincial one-day “protest” – which they say would be legal under the new law, but the law does ban strikes.

What will happen after December 31st? Will everything return to normal?

Probably not. If the province imposes contracts on the approximately 180,000 people working in schools, there could well be some continued job actions. Employees will be forbidden by law from working to rule or going on strike, but they may continue to refuse to do any voluntary services, including extra-curricular activities.

Teachers and support staff have taken the province to court. Won’t that resolve things?

The unions have mounted a court challenge to the new law, but the legal system moves very slowly. A similar court case launched by the B.C. nurses union took five years to make its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which struck down a somewhat similar B.C. law imposing contracts on nurses. Students in elementary school could finish high school before any final judgment on the Ontario law.

Have all the Catholic and French boards settled their contracts?

No. The provincial executive of OECTA and of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) signed on to the government’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which laid out the terms of the contracts. As yet, there have been some deals ratified in some Catholic boards, but none ratified in French-language boards.

What is Bill 115, and why are teachers and support staff upset about it?

The new education law – which will be in effect for at least the next two years – isn’t just about wage freezes (which some teachers’ federations already agreed to). It gives the province the power to impose agreements on school board staff, and grants the Minister of Education the power to take away many of the usual avenues in the bargaining process,  such as the right to strike, seek arbitration or appeal to the Labour Relations Board.

To read more about the bill, just click here.

How do the school boards and principals feel about Bill 115?

The Catholic, Public and French school board associations and the Catholic and Ontario Principals’ Councils raised strong objections to the new law. They all agreed that there is a need for fiscal restraint, but they also said that passing the new law was unnecessary and raised particular concerns about changes that remove principals’ controls over hiring and boards’  control over diagnostic tests.

Can Bill 115 be repealed?

There is a provision written into the new Act which allows the Minister of Education to go to the Lieutenant Governor and the Cabinet (the 17 MPPs who are Ministers of government departments) and ask that the whole Act be withdrawn by “Order in Council.” In this case, there is no requirement to go back to the full legislature for a vote.

By the end of January, Ontario will have a new Premier and a new Cabinet. This may offer some new possibilities for reconciliation.

OSSTF says that the province refused to agree to some locally bargained settlements. Is that true?

For the last two months, school boards have been trying to reach local settlements. As they get closer to a deal, they have been sending drafts of possible contracts in to the Minister of Education to find out if they would fit the stipulations in the new law.

In many cases the Minister’s office has asked for changes, explaining that before the deals could be approved the changes would have to be made. These weren’t really rejections of local settlements, because the settlements had not yet been agreed upon. In some cases (York Region, Niagara, Upper Grand, Hamilton etc.) the Minister’s office did agree to the deals, even though they were somewhat different from the deal signed with OECTA. In other cases (Ottawa-Carleton for example) OSST took the Minister’s changes as a rejection of the deal.

What are parents and concerned citizens doing?

Parents across the province are doing a variety of things: they are volunteering in their schools to cover activities teachers are not doing; they are writing to their MPPs, the Premier, their school board leaders, the teachers’ federations and the Minister of Education asking them to find resolutions; they are sending home information to keep parents informed, and they are holding meetings with school councils, teachers and principals to try to ensure that students are affected as little as possible. Some parents have also been asking candidates for the Liberal leadership to outline their plans to resolve the issue.

You can also download People for Education’s Quick Facts on the Education Dispute and share it with your school community.

Who can I talk to about this?

Laurel Broten, Minister of Education lbroten.mpp@liberal.ola.org Phone: 416-325-2600

Ken Coran, President, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation CORANK@osstf.on.ca 416-751-8300

Sam Hammond, President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario shammond@etfo.org 416-962-3836

Michael Barrett, President, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, president@opsba.org  (416) 340-2540

Or join the discussion in the People for Education Online Community