Education workers agree to end strike in Canada's Ontario

FILE PHOTO: A teacher walks the divided hallways at Hunter's Glen Junior Public School in Scarborough

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Striking education sector workers in Canada's most populous province agreed to return to work after the Ontario government on Monday offered to rescind a controversial law that imposed a contract on the workers and outlawed strikes.

The legislation, passed last week, was widely criticized for its use of a so-called notwithstanding clause, which allows a provincial government to override some aspects of Canada's Charter of Rights, which guarantees individuals rights and freedoms prescribed by law.

The Ontario government's offer to repeal the law was hailed as a victory by workers, which include educational assistants, secretaries and library workers. Union leader Laura Walton said they would be "collapsing" protest sites from Tuesday.

While the principal dispute over a new contract is still unresolved, the compromise allows hundreds of Ontario schools to resume in-person classes while the government and the union return to the negotiating table.

"We hope that this gesture is met with the same good faith by this government in a new proposal at the bargaining table as soon as possible," Walton said at a news conference.

Some 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) went on strike on Friday after failing to reach an agreement with the provincial government on better pay and more frontline staff in schools.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government has rejected the workers' demands as too high and said that the legislation was necessary to keep classrooms open after two years of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I'm glad CUPE has agreed to withdraw its strike action so kids can return to class," Ford said in a tweet. "We'll be back at the table to negotiate a fair deal — for students, parents, workers and taxpayers."

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; editing by Deepa Babington, Grant McCool and Richard Chang)