Education Minister Laurel Broten speaks at Queen's Park in Toronto regarding Bill 115 on Thursday Jan. 3.
Credits: DAVE THOMAS/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - The Ontario government has used the powers it gave itself with controversial Bill 115 to impose a contract on the province's public school teachers which freezes their wages and eliminates bankable sick days.
Teacher unions are looking at all their options which include walking off the job for a day of protest, continuing a ban on extracurricular activities, a court challenge and political actions targeting the Ontario Liberals in their upcoming leadership campaign and election.
Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA), is concerned students may move to the Catholic system -- especially if the dispute continues over the two-year life of the imposed contract, putting the public school system at a prolonged competitive disadvantage.
Education Minister Laurel Broten announced Thursday she would use Bill 115 to set contracts for public school teachers which follow the template of a previously negotiated agreement with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA).
ETFO has conducted rolling one-day strikes, while both elementary and high school teachers have withdrawn from extracurriculars in protest over Bill 115.
"It has been stressful and chaotic for many students and parents. Now those same union leaders are asking the government not to move ahead with collective agreements yet they offer no other solutions to offer except more disruption," Broten said. "I've been left with no other reasonable option but to exercise my authority under the Putting Students First Act to put in place fair and balanced local collective agreements across the province in all school boards that were unable to reach and ratify local collective agreements with the unions by Dec. 31, 2012."
Broten said any withdrawal of service, such as a day of protest, would now be illegal and she asked the union leadership not to encourage teachers to participate.
As a gesture of goodwill, she will repeal Bill 115 at the end of the month, Broten said.
ETFO President Sam Hammond said democracy was not served by Broten's actions.
"Minister Broten will not erase the stain of Bill 115 simply by removing it after it is used," Hammond said. "This impasse was never about pay increases. It's about the democratic right of people in this province to collectively and freely bargain under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada."
The imposed contract requires teachers to accept a two-year pay freeze -- which ETFO and OSSTF supported -- but also partially freezes the salary grid, demands three unpaid PD days and ends the practice of cashing out unused sick days at retirement.