Public Values

Teachers and education support staff taking Ontario Liberals to court over Bill 115

Legislation removing collective bargaining rights seeks to make itself above the law.

Coran: McGuinty shouldnt expect workers sit idly by while he strips basic, fundamental labour rightsFollowing the passage of Bill 115, which strips educators of their collective bargaining rights, three of the province's teacher and education support staff unions have indicated their intention to challenge the legislation in court.

"Instead of focusing on strengthening schools, communities and the economy, the Liberals have chosen to attack people's charter rights," said Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario President Fred Hahn. "We are challenging Bill 115 because the rights of Ontarians are protected by the Constitution, even if the Liberals don't want them to be."

"Bill 115 isn't about balancing the budget. It's not about fixing the economy. It won't benefit students or schools," said Hahn.

  The Liberal government and Progressive Conservative party members who voted for Bill 115 should hang their heads in shame at how they have wilfully abrogated the rights of Ontario workers.

"The passing of Bill 115 represents one of the darkest days in the history of workers' rights in recent memory," said Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) President Ken Coran. "This government has now passed a law that tramples on the rights of education workers in Ontario, and it appears that Premier McGuinty will be targeting other workers in the near future."

"The passage of this law is undemocratic and unprecedented, and was unnecessary," continued Coran. "This law now gives the Minister of Education sweeping powers over the negotiations process and takes away the ability of our members and the democratically elected school boards to engage in a free collective bargaining process that has been successful for many years."

Bill 115 bans lawful collective bargaining activities in the education sector for two — and possibly three — years, seeking to put the actions of the provincial government beyond the review of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, outside the reach of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and even above the courts.

"People's rights are not something to be trifled with. We are concerned this legislation goes too far and violates the civil liberties of all Ontarians," said Sukanya Pillay, a Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) director, committed to intervene in any legal challenge.

Legal proceedings will be supported by a campaign to strengthen schools, protect workers, and build community support, Hahn said.

Regarding the negotiation process, Coran said, "OSSTF will continue to follow the rules and laws that govern the collective bargaining process under the Ontario Labour Relations Act in our attempts to secure agreements with our members' employers; the school boards of Ontario. We will continue with local negotiations and urge the government to stop interfering with our legal right to collectively bargain."

"Premier McGuinty should not expect that our members or the workers of Ontario to sit idly while the government strips them of their basic and fundamental labour rights," concluded Coran.

For its part, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is encouraging its members "to take a pause" on voluntary activities. "While they will remain focused on teaching students and ensuring student safety, teachers and other educational professionals will need to consider very carefully what they can afford to do outside of their instructional responsibilities," said ETFO President Sam Hammond.

The first step in ETFO's dissent strategy is to introduce McGuinty Mondays in protest of the draconian legislation. Members are urged not to participate in school-based, system-level, and regional Ministry meetings on Mondays for the foreseeable future.

"We do not take this action lightly. Ontarians and the government need to know that you cannot take away the democratic rights of working people simply to fulfill a political party's agenda or ideology," said Hammond. "Collective bargaining rights are central to ensuring that working people are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness in the workplace. If the premier can get away with abolishing our rights, we need to ask 'who's next?'"

"This isn't just about education workers," said Hahn. "The liberals are using public-sector workers as a scapegoat for their mistakes. They cut revenues through tax breaks to profitable multi-national corporations and banks, thereby creating a deficit. Now, instead of asking the banks — which turned $8 billion in profits this quarter alone — to pay their fair share, they are going after custodians and part-time lunchroom workers. Ontarians saw through McGuinty's cynical politics in Kitchener-Waterloo, and they will see through his cynical politics all across Ontario in the weeks and months to come."

Hammond also commented on the fact that the Liberals passed this bill so near to the International Day of Democracy on September 15. "The Liberal government and Progressive Conservative party members who voted for Bill 115 should hang their heads in shame at how they have wilfully abrogated the rights of Ontario workers."

Links and sources
  Elementary teachers to "take a pause" on voluntary activities: Will also participate in "McGuinty Mondays" in response to draconian legislation.
  Ontario Government passes Bill 115: CUPE Ontario to begin legal proceedings challenging law that strips workers of their constitutional rights.
  OSSTF/FEESO President expresses his outrage at the passing of Bill 115
  Sad Day for Ontario as Canada marks Democracy Week

Posted: October 01, 2012

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