Today in Hamilton, Ontario, teachers are wearing black to protest Bill 115, new legislation that freezes their wages for two years, cuts sick days in half (and ends their ability to bank sick days) and bans striking for two years.
The bill, known as the Putting Students First Act, passed Tuesday morning and imposes a contract on Ontario elementary and secondary school teachers, as well as 50,000 support staff, CBC News reports.
In response, Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federations (OSSTF) local 21 bargaining unit has asked its members to refrain from volunteer and extracurricular activities today, in addition to donning black.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is asking teachers to not participate in school-based or system-level meetings on Mondays. The protest has been dubbed "McGuinty Mondays."
"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," ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement.
QMI Agency reports that "CUPE Ontario announced a constitutional challenge will be launched on the grounds that the bill interferes with collective bargaining."
"We are concerned that this bill violates the right to meaningful collective bargaining...Collective bargaining enhances the dignity of workers and is a constitutional right, in part, for this reason. This isn't only about the pocketbook, it is also about participating in the governance of the workplace," said Sukanya Pillay, a Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) Director.
Critics of Bill 115 claim the anti-strike legislation violates teachers' rights. Young teachers, already struggling to get full-time contracts and benefits, and low-wage education support workers are concerned about the wage freeze and the affect the legislation will have over the long term.
Teachers' unions are not in a legal position to adopt a work-to-rule campaign, CBC News reports, but individual teachers are still opting out of extra-curricular activities in protest.
"A number of our members have made the individual decision not to participate in extra-curriculars…just to indicate the level of discontent," OSSTF president Coran told CBC News.
McGuinty believes his bill — based on a deal already negotiated and signed between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and his Liberal government — will help Ontario decrease its $14.8-billion deficit, and promises to uphold previous bargaining gains like full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and more prep time for teachers.
"Families are saying to us, 'Give our kids a quality education and give us a strong economy so my child, when she grows up, has access to a good job,' and that's what we're delivering on," McGuinty said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who voted against the new legislation, worries that McGuinty's bill will backfire, with labour leaders succeeding before the Surpreme Court of Canada. Should Bill 115 be successfully challenged, taxpayers could be on the hook for both back wages and the government's legal costs, reports the Globe and Mail.
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