Photos by Susan Danic and Anestis Papoutsis
The fight between the teachers of Ontario and the Liberal government of Ontario has been going on for months. It started in March of 2012 and escalated in October when elementary teachers went on one-day strikes and extra curricular activities were cut by both elementary and secondary school teachers. Though the true cause of the escalation was when Bill 115 or the “Putting Students First Act” became a possibility and then the law in late August. Bill 115 is a bill that imposes contracts and essentially makes it ‘illegal’ for teachers to go on strike or engage in true collective bargaining. This is first and foremost the main issue between the teacher’s union and the government.
Bill 115 is often presented as a fight about raises. However, this is not the case. A wage freeze was agreed to by the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF) in April, and the wage freeze does not actually deal with raises as it is being portrayed in the media. Usually every four years the OSSTF and the government negotiate contracts, which involves a cost of living increase. So, these “raises” are actually formatted to take into account changes in cost of living and inflation.
On the weekend of January 26, between 25,000 and 30,000 people protested against Bill 115 in Toronto. The focus of the protest was the fact that striking has been made illegal. The right to strike and the right to collective bargaining is something that should always be allowed, as collective bargaining is in fact a part of our Canadian Constitution.
Limit on jurisdiction of Ontario Labour Relations Board:
14. (1) The Ontario Labour Relations Board shall not inquire into or make a decision on whether a provision of this Act, a regulation or an order made under subsection 9 (2) is constitutionally valid or is in conflict with the Human Rights Code.
Restrictions on review:
No review by court
15. (1) No term or condition included in an employment contract or collective agreement under or by virtue of this Act, process for consultation prescribed under this Act, or decision, approval, act, advice, direction, regulation or order made by the Minister or Lieutenant Governor in Council under this Act shall be questioned or reviewed in any court.
(2) No steps shall be taken to have a court question, review, prohibit or restrain any consultation, review or approval process prescribed or initiated under this Act at the Minister’s or Lieutenant Governor in Council’s discretion.
Restriction on review by arbitrator, Ontario Labour Relations Board
(3) Terms and conditions included in a collective agreement under or by virtue of this Act shall not be questioned or reviewed by an arbitrator, an arbitration board or the Ontario Labour Relations Board, except as provided by those terms or conditions.
Each one of these articles in Bill 115 essentially states that the bill cannot be challenged in court or be reviewed by the Ontario Labour Relation Board. In fact, even having a court question this bill is illegal.
While Bill 115 was repealed on January 23, it does not change the ill will that has been felt all around. The bad blood between students, teachers, parents, and the Ontario government will not disappear with the repeal, nor is it going to go away when negotiations are finally finished. So much for a bill that was supposed to “put students first.”