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Canada Ontario to give public high-school teachers $25-million as lawsuit remedy

The Charter challenge was launched after former Premier Dalton McGuinty sought to freeze teachers’ pay and end the practice of banking unused sick days to cash in upon retirement.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's Liberal government is giving its public high-school teachers a paid day off and $25-million in compensation as part of a remedy to a court ruling.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled last April that the government violated teachers' Charter rights in 2012 when it temporarily suspended the right to strike, cut their sick days and imposed contracts on some education worker unions.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation last week said it had reached a tentative deal with the government to extend its current contract for teachers and support staff by two years. The union also said that it had reached a remedy on the lawsuit.

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Related: Ontario reaches tentative deal with public high-school teachers

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An internal memo on the lawsuit settlement, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail on Tuesday night, indicated that $25-million will be given to school boards to compensate teachers for the erosion of their sick-leave plan and that teachers will get an additional paid day off in either the next school year or the one after that.

Paul Elliott, president of the OSSTF, has told The Globe he will not comment on the contract extension or the lawsuit remedy until it has gone through a ratification vote.

A spokesman for Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said that the government wouldn't comment further because remedy discussions with other unions were still ongoing and the matter was before the courts.

The OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union launched the Charter challenge shortly after Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, was passed in the fall of 2012 under premier Dalton McGuinty and Laurel Broten, the education minister at the time.

As part of an austerity program, Mr. McGuinty sought to freeze teachers' pay and end the practice of banking unused sick days to cash in upon retirement. While the government reached deals with some unions, ETFO, OSSTF and CUPE – which represents school support staff – would not agree to the terms. So the province imposed terms in Bill 115, which cut the wages of education workers, reduced their sick days and limited their ability to strike.

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In protest, the unions stopped voluntary activities, such as leading clubs or sports teams, and offering extra help after school.

After Mr. McGuinty resigned and was replaced by Kathleen Wynne in early 2013, talks resumed and the government secretly made a series of concessions, including a raise for elementary teachers, and fewer unpaid professional days.

The teachers stopped their work-to-rule campaign. The unions also launched a court challenge, saying the province contravened their right to collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In his ruling last year, a judge asked the government and unions to negotiate a remedy instead of having the court impose one.

During discussions on a remedy, The Globe learned that the government had also approached the unions about extending their current contract – a move that would give the Liberals labour peace in schools until after the next election.

In recent weeks, the government has reached tentative deals to extend the contracts with all its education unions. This mean the workers will receive a 4-per-cent wage increase over two years.

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