Written By: Sadie McInnes
Two weeks ago it was announced that starting on December tenth, secondary school teachers in Ontario would be working to rule.
The confusion among Harbord students was immediate. Personally, I thought I understood it, but this mess is far more complicated than meets the eye. A few million google searches later I have a slightly better idea of what’s going on.
The story starts back in 1995 when Mike Harris was elected premier of Ontario. Since I was busy being born, I don’t have a great memory of this time in Canadian history so I have to refer to the Canadian Encyclopedia. It states that Harris’ plan in office included cuts to education funding as well as some restructuring to our education system. According to People for Education, before the ‘95 Harris election individual school boards like the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) were responsible for determining teacher contracts. Whereas now, though school boards are still technically the employers of teachers in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF, i.e.: the teachers’ union) the Ministry of Education can determine province wide teacher contracts in negotiation with the boards.
Cut to present day Ontario. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has said that Ontario is $14.4 billion in deficit, and the government is looking to make budget cuts. This is where Bill 115 comes into play. The Bill, also known as the “Putting Students First Act” states that the government can implement a ‘wage freeze’, meaning that teachers can be given a two year contract during which their salary cannot rise. It also cuts their sick days from 20 down to 10 and stops the ‘rollover’ of sick days. Previously, if a teacher did not use all of their sick days in a year, those days would be added to their total days in the following school year. This ensured that if a teacher were to suffer from a long term illness they would have sufficient coverage, but it also meant that teachers who had unused days left when they retired were paid for them. This raised a good amount of controversy. Many feel this is a logical place to make budget cuts, and according to People For Education it is projected to save the government up to $2.7 billion. However, it can also be argued that the new system would create a greater incentive for teachers to use all of their sick days, negatively impacting staff and students alike. All that aside, the most important thing to know about the Bill, is that it also gave the Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, the power to end a teacher strike or lockout without negotiation.
It is this final component of the law which is the most shocking. But while elementary and middle schools began work to rule actions earlier in the fall, secondary schools seemed hardly affected. So what changed? What happened is this: The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the French-language teachers’ federation (AEFO) recently signed a provincial agreement, accepting the terms set by the government. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the OSSTF was beginning to reach tentative agreements with various school boards when the Minister stepped in. Saying that she will refuse any agreements that do not match the ones met by OECTA and AEFO. It because of this that teachers in the OSSTF began working to rule. They are not protesting the budget cuts, but rather the fact that the government has taken away their right to collective bargaining and chosen to interfere in union and board negotiations.