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Province Imposes Contracts on Ontario Teachers

Wages frozen for two years, strikes illegal.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathancastellino/7075380465/"}jonathancastellino{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Education Minister Laurel Broten (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) announced at a press conference this morning that Queen’s Park will be imposing a collective agreement on teachers in Ontario who have not yet agreed to one—something the government is empowered to do via the controversial Bill 115 (“Putting Students First Act”) which it passed in September. What this means for teachers: a two-year wage freeze, a partially frozen pay grid (meaning that 60 per cent of teachers won’t advance to higher rungs on the pay scale), fewer sick days, and an end to “banking” sick days and cashing them out upon retirement. It also—and for many this is by far the biggest sticking point—makes strikes illegal until the agreement expires in August 2014.

Ontario’s $14 billion deficit “is forcing all of us to choose between competing interests” Broten said today, and “for me the choice was between protecting one of the world’s best education systems and paying more for teachers.” This new contract will save $2 billion over two years, she said, and is essential if the government is to attain its fiscal goals and balance the budget in coming years. (The minority Liberal government passed Bill 115 with the help of the Progressive Conservatives.) Though Ontario’s Catholic and French teachers reached agreements with the province last year, today’s announcement of the imposition affects a large majority of teachers in the province.

Four unions, including the ETFO and the OSSTF, are challenging Bill 115 in court, maintaining that it breaches their bargaining rights.

In a surprise twist, Broten also announced that as soon as the outstanding contracts are ratified, the government is prepared to repeal Bill 115—a show of good faith, she said, and a sign that they were sincere when they described the legislation as a one-time measure, a “pause” in salary increases while the government addresses the deficit. That goal having been accomplished, Broten says, Bill 115 will not be necessary going forward, and won’t be in place for the next round of negotiations when the current contracts expire.

The repeal does not affect the court challenge. Should the unions win their case, affected teachers may be awarded back pay dating from the beginning of this contract.

Broten said today the government needed to impose the contract in order to, among other reasons, restore order and minimize disruption for students. It is not yet clear whether that will be the case, however: teachers may continue to refuse to help with extracurricular activities, and illegal strikes are also possible. Broten declined to speculate about sanctions teachers might face if they participated in illegal strikes.

Ontario students return to school on Monday, January 7.

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