No need for families to suf­fer through another labour dis­pute

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION -

Get­ting worked up about im­pend­ing strikes or lock­outs as a re­sult of con­tract talks is usu­ally a mug’s game.

When ne­go­ti­a­tions reach the point where dras­tic action by ei­ther side seems likely, dark talk of im­pacts and pain of­ten fol­low — par­tic­u­larly when pub­lic sec­tor jobs are in­volved.

Of­ten the re­sult is a last-minute set­tle­ment that ren­ders ir­rel­e­vant any­thing said or done in re­ac­tion to a pos­si­ble “cat­a­strophic” out­come.

A re­cent stand­off be­tween On­tario’s pro­vin­cial govern­ment and the union rep­re­sent­ing thou­sands of school cus­to­di­ans, cler­i­cal work­ers and early child­hood ed­u­ca­tors is the lat­est ex­am­ple.

As a dead­line ap­proached more than 20 school boards an­nounced they would close hun­dreds of schools if the work­ers went on strike. In the late hours of the last day be­fore the strike and clo­sures took ef­fect the two sides reached a deal. End of cri­sis.

How­ever, that ex­am­ple also rep­re­sents the ex­cep­tion to the no-com­ment rule. Pub­lic sec­tor dis­rup­tions have ex­tremely broad im­pacts. A strike or lock­out that closes On­tario’s el­e­men­tary and sec­ondary schools would af­fect two mil­lion chil­dren.

Lost school days aside, hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ing par­ents would be scram­bling to find a safe place for their kids to go five days a week.

That pos­si­bil­ity is here again as teach­ers’ unions talk con­tract. Over the next two weeks strike dead­lines will ar­rive for al­most all On­tario sec­ondary and el­e­men­tary teach­ers. Only the French-lan­guage schools union has not set the wheels in mo­tion.

The story line closely mir­rors what hap­pened in the early days of for­mer Premier Kath­leen Wynne’s first term, although mi­nus the con­tract talks.

The Wynne govern­ment an­nounced bud­get and salary cuts and freezes as part of a plan to re­duce alarm­ingly high deficits and a grow­ing pro­vin­cial debt. Teach­ers’ unions dug in. A se­ries of ro­tat­ing strikes fol­lowed. Teach­ers were even­tu­ally or­dered back to work by the courts.

But as con­tract re­newals — and an elec­tion — rolled around again the teach­ers won back al­most ev­ery­thing they had lost. In some cases the Wynne govern­ment gave back more than it had taken away.

Stu­dents and families, how­ever, couldn’t re­cover lost school time and missed ex­tracur­ric­u­lar op­por­tu­ni­ties or sim­ply wipe away the ag­gra­va­tion and per­sonal costs of deal­ing with strikes and “work to rule” action. It doesn’t have to be that way this time.

Premier Doug Ford’s govern­ment is not propos­ing changes as deep as the Wynne govern­ment or­dered. It has al­ready backed off on some class­room size an­nounce­ments and there is room for other con­ces­sions while still re­duc­ing costs.

The teach­ers also have an ob­vi­ous op­por­tu­nity to give a lit­tle: a pro­posed salary freeze.

That would be the one-per-cent cap the prov­ince has or­dered on raises for all pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees, not just teach­ers.

While raises below the in­fla­tion rate mean giv­ing up some real in­come, the re­al­ity is that On­tario needs to re­duce spend­ing.

And at a time where pub­lic sec­tor salaries and ben­e­fits out­strip what many pri­vate sec­tor work­ers can ex­pect, a guar­an­teed one-per-cent an­nual raise is not too much hard­ship to ac­cept.

The Ford govern­ment has shown it will give a lit­tle when faced with uni­fied op­po­si­tion. It needs to re­peat that prac­tice and teach­ers need to do the same.

There is no need for On­tario families to be caught in another pitched bat­tle in their schools.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.