Ed­u­ca­tion work­ers launch job ac­tion as labour talks un­cer­tain

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - SHAWN JEF­FORDS

TORONTO — Tens of thou­sands of ed­u­ca­tion work­ers across On­tario be­gan a work-to-rule cam­paign on Mon­day as con­fu­sion mounted over when their union and the gov­ern­ment would re­turn to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Stephen Lecce said CUPE, which rep­re­sents 55,000 cus­to­di­ans, cler­i­cal work­ers and early child­hood ed­u­ca­tors, had ac­cepted a gov­ern­ment of­fer of new me­di­a­tion dates and that talks could re­sume as early as this week.

“I’m grate­ful for the union ac­cept­ing those days,” he told a morn­ing news con­fer­ence at a school in Noble­ton, Ont. “I hope that that can be a le­git­i­mate, bona-fide, con­struc­tive di­a­logue that ac­tu­ally leads to a deal.”

But hours later, the pres­i­dent of CUPE’s On­tario School Board Coun­cil of Unions refuted Lecce’s state­ment, say­ing no dates were of­fered and that the par­ties re­mained too far apart to re­turn to the ta­ble.

“There’s a clear disconnect be­tween what we hear from the min­is­ter and what we hear at the ta­ble, and this would be an­other re­ally good ex­am­ple of that,” Laura Wal­ton said.

Dur­ing the work-to-rule cam­paign, ed­u­ca­tion work­ers will stop work­ing over­time and won’t per­form ex­tra du­ties. For cus­to­di­ans, that in­cludes not clean­ing hall­ways, of­fice ar­eas or gym­na­si­ums, cut­ting school lawns or pick­ing up or emp­ty­ing garbage cans out­side of schools.

Cler­i­cal work­ers are not to re­place pa­per or per­form pho­to­copier re­pairs, find re­place­ments for ab­sent staff or ad­min­is­ter any med­i­ca­tions.

Ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tants are not to pre­pare ma­te­ri­als for any class, com­plete stu­dent at­ten­dance or al­low class to start with­out a teacher present, and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy staff are not to un­der­take re­pairs.

Wal­ton said the union will re­turn to talks if there is a prospect of mean­ing­ful progress.

Con­tracts for On­tario’s pub­lic school teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tion work­ers ex­pired Aug. 31, and the ma­jor unions are in var­i­ous stages of bar­gain­ing. The talks are tak­ing place as the gov­ern­ment has or­dered school boards to start in­creas­ing class sizes, mov­ing to an av­er­age for high school from 22 to 28 over four years. Class sizes for grades 4 to 8 will rise by one stu­dent per class­room, from 23 to 24.

The gov­ern­ment has said that will mean 3,475 fewer teach­ers will be needed in the sys­tem over four years, which will be ac­com­plished by not fill­ing va­can­cies when teach­ers quit or re­tire. Wal­ton has said those cuts trickle down and af­fect ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tant sup­ports and cus­to­dial ser­vices as well.

NDP ed­u­ca­tion critic Marit Stiles blamed Premier Doug Ford’s gov­ern­ment for not do­ing enough to avert the job ac­tion.

“No­body in this sit­u­a­tion wants stu­dents to suf­fer,” she said. “But, un­for­tu­nately, here we are in this sit­u­a­tion. It re­ally makes clear once again that the cuts that this gov­ern­ment is mak­ing are im­pact­ing stu­dents.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the Ford gov­ern­ment’s ed­u­ca­tion cuts will put more pres­sure on sup­port staff, who are some of the low­est­paid em­ploy­ees in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“They de­serve sup­port,” Schreiner said in a state­ment.

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