PARRY SOUND – Teachers’ unions are fighting back.
Thousands of teachers picketed Queen’s Park on Tuesday in opposition to a proposed Act that aims to freeze wages before teachers’ contracts roll over next week. On Monday, the fall legislative session was called early in order to table the proposed document in the hopes of having it passed before the end of the month.
The Putting Students First Act is an unprecedented move that would also eliminate teachers’ right to collectively bargain.
“The McGuinty government always brags about how we have the best education in the world, but they have no respect for those that make it the best in the world. We need to make the government aware of how strong a voice we have,” said Glen Hodgson, president of the Near North District branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. “The Liberal government is not representing the truth.”
Hodgson alleges that the Act is being used as a political move to help the Liberals win Sept. 6 by-elections in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan.
“They’re using teachers, students and parents as pawns for their own political gain. They’re trying to make it look Working like there’s a crisis and then are solving it and come out looking like heroes by solving a problem they are creating in the first place,” said Hodgson. “It’s all an attempt to gain support.”
Hodgson was one of about 40 people from the North Bay – Parry Sound area that boarded a bus and headed south for the rally on Aug. 28.
“There was a lot of solidarity at the rally and it wasn’t just teachers unions that were there. A lot of other labour groups were represented because they understand what’s really going on here and how unjust it is to take away our rights,” said Hodgson.
The Ministry wants teachers to agree to a zero per cent salary increase for the next two years, the addition of three unpaid professional development days, the restructuring of sick days reducing the annual allotment from 20 per teacher to 10, and the elimination of the retirement gratuity, meaning teachers can’t cash in unused sick days upon retirement.
“It’s not just teachers that are affected. It’s all public sector employees that are going to be hit with this, including support staff and custodians. But if they get away with this now, who will be next? The people of Ontario should be very scared,” he said.
Hodgson said people are focused on the wage freeze, which he says teachers actually agreed to back in the spring, and are ignoring the bigger issue, which is the elimination of employees right to collectively bargain or to strike.
“We’re getting into a dictatorship. They have completely taken away our rights,” said Hodgson. “We never once rejected the wage freeze and never threatened action.”
As of September 1, teachers’ contracts will automatically roll over, leading to automatic wage increases of up to 5.5 per cent, as well as two million more bankable sick days that can be cashed out at retirement.
This Act aims to intercept that roll over and could be voted on as early as this week.
In the meantime, the Ministry has left negotiations with teachers’ unions to the individual boards, a procedure that Near North District School Board Trustee Al Bottomley said hasn’t happened in nearly a decade.
If the Act is not passed in the Legislature and the Board is unable to reach a settlement on its own, the individual boards will be responsible for covering the additional salary expenses when the contracts roll over at the end of the month.
According to Bottomley, if the contract is permitted to roll over, the Board will have to pay for the wage increases out of pocket, which could be $70,000 to $80,000 a month.
Bottomley said installing the Act is a big mistake.
“It’s a respect thing,” he said. “If you don’t negotiate a settlement, there will be bitterness,” he said. “I don’t think the teachers will take that out on students, as some people have suggested, but every employee wants to feel needed and respected by their employer.”