Teacher unions take is­sue with On­tario law cap­ping wage deals

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - ROBERT BEN­ZIE

On­tario high school teach­ers re­turn to con­tract talks Thurs­day against the spec­tre of a con­tro­ver­sial new pro­vin­cial law that unions charge is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Har­vey Bischof, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Sec­ondary School Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion (OSSTF), said ne­go­ti­a­tions were al­ready mov­ing “painfully slowly” be­fore the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives passed Bill 124 last week.

That’s the leg­is­la­tion cap­ping the wage set­tle­ments for hun­dreds of thou­sands of pub­lic ser­vice em­ploy­ees at one per cent an­nu­ally for the next three years.

Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Peter Beth­len­falvy, ar­chi­tect of the mea­sure, in­sisted it is “fair and time-limited ap­proach” to help pay down the Tories’ $9bil­lion bud­get deficit. He main­tained his leg­is­la­tion “does not im­pede col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing or in­ter­fere with the right to strike and would not im­pact ex­ist­ing agree­ments.”

Union lead­ers dis­pute that.

“It deeply un­der­mines the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process,” Bischof said in an in­ter­view Tues­day. “Now we’ll have to see what hap­pens at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble when we re­turn Thurs­day.

“It re­ally falls into the cat­e­gory of pos­tur­ing. It’s meant to ap­peal some seg­ment of their sup­port­ers to come to the ta­ble with this kind of a blunt in­stru­ment to show that they’re be­ing tough and it’s en­tirely mis­guided.”

High school teach­ers are seek­ing a wage in­crease at the rate of in­fla­tion, the equiv­a­lent of about two per cent this year, but the new law dic­tates that one per cent is the max­i­mum.

“We are ex­am­in­ing a Char­ter chal­lenge right now,” the OSSTF pres­i­dent said, point­ing to pre­vi­ous laws, such as for­mer Lib­eral premier Dal­ton McGuinty’s Bill 115, which im­posed set­tle­ments in 2012, that were found to breach the con­sti­tu­tional rights of union mem­bers.

Liz Stu­art, pres­i­dent of the On­tario English Catholic Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, agreed “there is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for pass­ing this un­con­sti­tu­tional leg­is­la­tion.”

Beth­len­falvy’s of­fice noted Tues­day that “the min­is­ter may also ex­empt a col­lec­tive agree­ment,” sug­gest­ing there could be ex­cep­tions to the one per cent rule.

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