BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: Durham's public elementary and secondary school teachers returned to class this week, days after new contracts were imposed on them by Education Minister Laurel Broten in the latest round of the Bill 115 debacle.
This week, teachers and students headed back to class Monday (Jan. 7) following the Christmas break. The minister announced the new teaching contracts on Jan. 3 before stating that the province would repeal Bill 115, the controversial provincial legislation passed last September that imposed a number of restrictions on Ontario's teachers, including wage freezes and provisions allowing the government to halt strikes.
The new contracts - which will expire in September 2014 (retroactive to September 2012) - will freeze wages for two years, cut sick days to 10 per year and prevent banking of those sick days. Ontario's Catholic teachers reached a similar deal with the province last summer.
The legislation has been the subject of much demonstration by teachers' unions in recent months. Late last year, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario began a series of rotating one-day strikes by its member boards across the province. On Dec. 18, elementary teachers with the Durham District School Board joined many of their peers, including teachers in Toronto and Peel Region, by cancelling classes in protest of the bill. Teachers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) have also embarked upon a work-to-rule campaign, cancelling extra-curricular activities such as sports and arts programs.
Representatives from both elementary and secondary teachers' unions were critical of the minister's Jan. 3 move, describing the announcement as damaging to the relationship between teachers and the government. Members of both unions met this week to discuss their next actions.
"The government has used a hammer to dictate terms of a contract, a hammer that was put in place as early as last February," said ETFO president Sam Hammond. "Ten years of goodwill has been squandered in ten months by this education minister. By saying that she will repeal Bill 115 after using it to trample our rights, the education minister has admitted that the legislation is deeply flawed. Minister Broten will not erase the stain of Bill 115 simply by removing it after it is used."
Added OSSTF president Ken Coran:
"By taking away our right to strike and imposing collective agreements upon our members, the Minister has shown that she has little respect for the rights of education workers, democratically elected school boards of trustees, or the citizens of Ontario. By using the Bill 115 legislation, the government has officially taken away the ability of our members and school boards, our employers, to engage in a free collective bargaining process that has been successful for many years."