A provincial plan to legislate a wage freeze for educators is offensive, says a local union official.
MPPs are getting an early start at Queen’s Park next week to vote on the Liberals’ Putting Students First Act. The legislation would force education unions to accept a contract by Aug. 31 that would freeze wages for the next two years, take three unpaid professional development days each year and stop the practice of having unused sick days paid out.
That contract was accepted by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and is considered a roadmap by the province for other unions to follow. But Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation District 6A Teachers’ president Paul Caccamo said school boards and unions have been able to negotiate fair contracts for both sides using the province’s labour negotiation provisions for decades.
It’s a process that has worked well.
To legislate anyone to take a contract is unprecedented he said.
“I think it’s insulting quite frankly,” Caccamo said. "We firmly believe that (negotiation) should be happening now and the fact that the (education minister Laurel Broten) has stepped in and is going to circumvent that really shows a lack of respect for the collective bargaining provisions in this province and I think all working people should be offended.”
MPP Michael Gravelle (Lib., Thunder Bay-Superior North) said the province has worked hard to negotiate with the unions and that bargaining with OECTA took more than 300 hours.
OSSTF, along with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, chose not to negotiate.
“To sum it up (this legislation) hits the pause button on pay increases for the next two years and some other unions I think, as the public knows, chose not to bargain with the government. They walked away from the bargaining table,” Gravelle said.
The province warns that if the contact isn’t accepted by Sept. 1 when current contracts expire, it will be forced to have to continue with pay increases from that previous contract and allow for paying out unpaid sick days, which would cost the cash-strapped province $473 million.
“We want to see that the funding that is available remains focused in the classroom and not, quite frankly, related to pay raises,” Gravelle said.
But Caccamo said unions are willing to negotiate, and that they’ve already offered to take the wage freezes.
“More than anything else we want to be able to sit down and have meaningful discussion s and negations as we always have to come to terms and we have even offered ideas that we have to save the province money,” he said.
There are five scheduled negotiation meetings in the next two months. Contracts expire all the time while negotiations are ongoing Caccamo said. The government knew that the contract was going to expire but instead of allowing the regular process to unfold, the province has decided to legislate instead.
“The fact that she’s (Broten) uncomfortable with them and is going to use legislation to get her way is certainly a grave concern to us,” he said.
Gravelle said he’s not sure whether the Progressive Conservatives or NDP will support the legislation, something that’s needed if the Liberal minority wants to get it through.
“I certainly can’t speak for the opposition,” he said. “Passing legislation in a minority government is tricky and it does require a real patience.”