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Teachers say school bill gives Ontario Education Minister too much power Add to ...

A bill that the Ontario government hopes will bring stability to the province’s schools after last year’s labour strife is already facing criticism from teacher unions.

Bill 122 will spell out how negotiations expected to begin in 2014 will be conducted. Big monetary issues, such as salaries and benefits, would be negotiated centrally by the government, unions and school board associations. The Minister of Education would also be able to decide what other issues will determined at the talks with the province. Bargaining on local issues, such as teacher workload, access to technology and training, would take place between individual school boards and their respective unions.

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Unions representing public and Catholic teachers told a Queen’s Park committee hearing on Wednesday that Bill 122 would give the minister too much power over such issues as the length of a contract and what is bargained provincially or locally. Those things, they contend, should be negotiated, not dictated.

Susan Swackhammer, vice-president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said in a submission that the bill would assign “unusual and extraordinary authority” to the government over bargaining.

Paul Elliott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, called the legislation a step in the right direction, because it would legally define how the bargaining process would work, which is a change from the past. But he also indicated that high school teachers and support staff have concerns.

“We’ve raised issues that we hope will be addressed … and until we see the outcome of those amendments, we will remain cool to entrenching a process that does not ensure a level playing field for all three parties,” he said after the hearing.

The proposed law, introduced in October, comes after a tumultuous year in Ontario’s public school system in which teachers stopped supervising extracurricular activities in protest against legislation that dictated the terms of their contracts.

Increasingly, talks between teacher unions and governments across the country have been tense, with parents and students caught in the middle. B.C. teachers will vote on a strike mandate next week. This follows a judge’s ruling that the government attempted to provoke a full-blown strike during the last job action. Premier Christy Clark has promised to negotiate a 10-year contract, which the union opposes. And since Ontario removed school boards’ taxation power in 1997, there has been much confusion about whether negotiations should be with the province or with local boards.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals said the new legislation defines roles and would create a two-tier bargaining process, so that it is clear what is bargained at the provincial level and locally.

Lauren Ramey said amendments proposed by teachers’ union would be considered.

The teachers’ two-year contract expires in August. Many in the education sector are hoping to avoid what happened in the past academic year, when teachers stopped voluntary activities such as leading clubs or sports teams after the Liberal government introduced Bill 115.

Follow on Twitter: @calphonso

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