Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions say they are launching charter challenges Thursday to a law capping public-sector wage increases, arguing that it violates their collective bargaining rights.
The Progressive Conservative government passed the law as contract talks were just starting, and the unions say it was an extraordinary interference in the process.
“This legislation is a direct affront to bargaining rights and the education profession,” said Sam Hammond, the president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “By attempting to legislate unilateral limits on compensation growth, the government is turning its back on the collective bargaining process.”
The unions, representing teachers in public elementary, public high school, Catholic and French boards, say they are each filing a separate constitutional challenge because each of them have issues unique to their members.
“Let me be clear: This is not about money,” said Rémi Sabourin, the president of the French teachers’ union. “It’s about the right to negotiate without government interference.”
The law caps all public-sector salary increases at 1 per cent a year for the next three years. Treasury Board president Peter Bethlenfalvy said he is confident the law is constitutional. He added that it still allows for employees to get raises for seniority, performance or increased qualifications.
The legislation was tabled just as negotiations between teachers and the government were getting started, and Liz Stuart, the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said the timing of the legislation suggests it specifically targets teachers.
This round of bargaining has been tense, with teachers angered by not only the limits on salary increases being legislated outside the bargaining process, but also by a government announcement in the spring that it was increasing class sizes and introducing mandatory e-learning courses.
High-school teachers have staged one-day strikes, elementary teachers are in a work-to-rule campaign, the Catholic teachers are in a legal strike position later this month, and the French teachers are soon conducting strike votes.
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