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Ontario Liberals discussing more payouts to teachers’ unions not part of 2012 court ruling

Ontario’s Liberal government is discussing settlements as a result of salary delays with education unions who were not part of the court ruling that found the province violated teachers’ Charter rights in 2012.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education said on Tuesday that the negotiations are about “equity and fairness,” but others question whether the deals are politically motivated as Kathleen Wynne’s government heads into an election.

“I’m at a loss to understand why the government felt an obligation to square up with unions who willingly signed onto an agreement and therefore didn’t have their rights violated in the way that my members’ rights were violated,” said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).

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The OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and three other unions recently won a court challenge that the province violated their collective bargaining rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by imposing contracts on education workers in 2012 that delayed raises and suspended their right to strike.

Several other unions, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), were not part of the challenge because they signed off on deals and, therefore, contracts were not imposed on their members.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that the provincial government is paying OECTA $31-million - giving qualifying teachers a one-time payment of $2,000 - after the union won an arbitration ruling on delays in salary raises.

Ministry of Education spokesman Derek Luk said in an e-mail statement to The Globe on Tuesday that even though AEFO and “other non-applicants” were not party to the Charter challenge, the government is in discussions to reach an agreement to ensure they will “not participate in any proceeding ... to help mitigate further constitutional challenges.”

“While we cannot comment on the process further, these discussions are an important part in reflecting principles of equity and fairness with all labour partners,” Mr. Luk added.

Marilyne Guèvremont, a spokeswoman for AEFO, said the union would not comment on the issue for now.

Earl Manners, who was president of the OSSTF during the turbulent Mike Harris years, called them “sweetheart deals.” Teachers have been key members of the Liberals’ political base and the party has taken several measures to buy labour peace during a coming election.

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“What we’re seeing now is clearly sweetheart deals to ensure unions that didn’t challenge the government get compensated in the same manner as the challengers,” said Mr. Manners, who is now a consultant after retiring as the head of human resources at the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

The OSSTF and other unions have reached a remedy with the government in response the court’s ruling. The ETFO has indicated that it will be returning to court.

The OSSTF agreed to a $50-million settlement last year to cover the delays in salary increases and a loss of banking sick days.

Mr. Bischof said the union is looking at its legal options after learning the government has been in discussions with those not party to the Charter challenge.

“It was bad enough when we had to settle on a remedy that didn’t come close to restoring our members from what was stripped from them. But it’s even worse to discover that the perpetrators of this injustice, the government, have withheld a certain portion of funding in order to distribute to those who didn’t have their rights violated, to those who voluntarily signed onto an agreement,” Mr. Bischof said.

Despite several years of projected deficits in his latest budget, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says built in “prudence” will allow a return to balance. Opposition leaders said the Liberals are trying to win votes with spending. The Canadian Press
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