Teacher unions take issue with Ontario law capping wage deals
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.