Categorized | Editorial

The Government’s Right to Legislate ‘back to work’ legislation

Posted on 27 May 2015 by admin

Ontario’s Liberal government is right to move quickly to end a teachers’ strike that put the school year at risk for 70,000 high school students. With a declaration in hand by the province’s Education Relations Commission declaring the school year in jeopardy, the government had no choice.

Far from acting hastily or undemocratically – as the opposition New Democrats argued at Queen’s Park on Monday – the government has shown restraint as the strike in Durham region dragged into its sixth week, while that in Sudbury entered its fifth week and Peel its fourth.

With the end of the school year only about a month away, it’s common sense that the students’ educational experience was at risk of being lost. Yet it took the commission a full 10 days of pondering to come to that obvious conclusion, as students fretted and the government patiently awaited its decision.

The commission found that “the impact of each of the strikes is such that … the teachers’ return to work is necessary to ensure that the students can endeavour to complete their courses of study.”

Education Minister Liz Sandals had made it clear she would move immediately to introduce back-to-work legislation for the striking teachers once the commission made its ruling. She was right to act on that promise.

Unfortunately, it looks as though it will take several more days to get classes going once more because the NDP is refusing all-party consent for the legislation. Unanimous consent would have ensured the kids got back to class as soon as Tuesday, but the NDP’s refusal to play ball means the government can’t get the legislation passed until Thursday at the earliest.

That just means more lost days in a school year that will be severely compressed at the end.

For that to succeed, students and parents can only hope that teachers go back to work with a sense of urgency and dedication. They will have to make tough decisions on how to cram the missed curriculum into the four remaining weeks, and whether to cancel exams or waive the 110 hours required to earn a credit.

The legal maneuvering around contract negotiations between the government and teachers is far from over. The Ontario Labour Relations Board still must rule on the actual legality of the teachers’ walkouts at the local level.

Under legislation passed last year, big-ticket items such as wages and class size were supposed to be negotiated province-wide at a central bargaining table. Local issues were to be worked out between individual school boards and their teachers’ unions.

The three strike-hit boards have argued before the labour relations board that the walkouts were illegal because they had little to do with local issues. Rather, they maintained, the strikes were just a tactic to sway provincial bargaining.

The school boards were seeking an “urgent” decision, but the labour board has taken its time working through the complex issues involved. It’s expected to release a report on the matter by the middle of this week.

Regardless of the outcome of that dispute, the government needs to clarify the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act.


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