Lightning-quick public hearings on anti-strike legislation for Ontario teachers have ended after less than 24 hours.
An all-party committee wrapped up its examination of the controversial bill, which also imposes a new contract on the majority of teachers and education workers in the province.
The bill imposes a two-year wage freeze on veteran teachers while allowing younger ones to still move up the salary grid, and mandates three unpaid days off in the second year of the contract.
It’s based on an agreement the province reached with the English Catholic and francophone teachers, but has been rejected by the two biggest unions representing elementary and high school teachers.
The committee, which has heard from unions, trustees and principals’ associations, had just a few hours to consider the bill, which is being rammed through the legislature.
A union representing English Catholic teachers says even though it signed an agreement with the province, it still had to hold strike votes to get deals with some local school boards.
Kevin O’Dwyer of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association says 91.8 per cent of elementary teachers in Dufferin-Peel voted in favour of a strike.
The union has had to schedule other strike votes in order to deal with some of their employers — the school boards — and protect their collective agreements, he told the committee.
Some boards are taking an aggressive, “over-the-top” approach and 13 have applied for conciliation, asking the Ministry of Labour to help both sides reach an agreement.
But some boards are trying to unilaterally change the agreement, which is “provocative,” he said.
“There’s only one thing a union can do, is pull a strike vote and exercise that strike vote if need be,” Mr. O’Dwyer said.
“That was the position we were put in, in spite of — irony of ironies — signing a memorandum of understanding with the government of Ontario.”
Other boards, such as the Toronto Catholic and York Catholic, have signed on to the provincial agreement.
The Tories complain the bill doesn’t actually impose a true wage freeze on teachers, but promise to support the minority government to ensure it passes into law.
The Liberals say they need all 1.3 million workers in Ontario’s public sector to accept a two-year wage freeze to eliminate a $15-billion deficit.