Ontario government won't block one-day teacher walkout at Avon Maitland school board
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 7:11AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 6, 2012 8:41PM EST
The governing Liberals will not block planned one-day strikes by public elementary teachers at the Avon Maitland and Ontario North East school boards starting next week, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday.
The self-described "education premier" said his government won't use a controversial new anti-strike law to stop the walkouts, because the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is giving parents at least three days notice.
"I understand this will be an inconvenience for parents as they make special arrangements, and it is regrettable for students to miss any time learning, even a day," he said in a statement. "However, a legal one-day strike action does not warrant the government's intervention."
McGuinty was echoing the comments of Education Minister Laurel Broten, who said the government will allow legal one-day strikes to occur in all school boards if 72-hours notice is provided. Letters will be sent home with students on Thursday.
The strike will impact 40 elementary schools in the Stratford area. On Monday, teachers will be protesting outside nine of them.
"I guess I can understand where they're coming from, but at the same time these kids have to go to school to learn, so it's frustrating," said mom Amy Halls. "Luckily I have outside daycare available but it's kind of hard."
When asked what will happen to children whose parents may not be able to find or afford child care, Broten stuck to her message that she understands it will be an "inconvenience" to parents.
Ted Doherty, the Director of Education at the Avon Maitland District School Board, said that some daycares are prepared to help by bringing in extra staff.
If the strikes move beyond one day, the government will immediately reassess the situation and has already prepared the necessary legal documents to end it, Broten said.
The teachers' union said the walkout is in protest of the legislation, which gives the government the power to stop strikes and impose a collective agreement if it doesn't like what the deal the union and local boards negotiate.
Under the new law, teachers have until Dec. 31 to negotiate deals with school boards. They must be similar to the one the Liberals struck with English Catholic teachers in the summer, which froze the wages of most teachers and cut benefits, such as the banking of sick days that can be cashed out at retirement.
Four unions are taking the cash-strapped government to court over the law, arguing it's unconstitutional and violates collective bargaining rights.
But the Liberals, who brought back the legislature early to push Bill 115 through, said it's necessary to ensure that they can freeze public-sector pay to eliminate the province's $14.4-billion deficit.
Job action among teachers has been escalating for months, from the initial withdrawal of volunteer activities -- such as coaching sports teams -- to skipping certain tasks, such as administering standardized tests and keeping report card comments to a minimum.
The New Democrats want to repeal the legislation and restart negotiations with the teachers' unions.
"It's pretty clear that the government doesn't have a plan anymore as to how to go forward," said education critic Peter Tabuns.
"When they came forward with this bill in the summer -- this unconstitutional bill, this reckless bill -- they said they needed it to make sure schools opened on time and stayed open right through the school year," he added. "Clearly, that's not happening."
The Progressive Conservatives have been urging Broten to use her legislative hammer to "re-impose some semblance of order" in schools.
McGuinty said he's "disappointed" that ETFO is going ahead with one-day strikes, which puts "students squarely in the middle" of their dispute with his government.
"Just as students and parents have the right to stability in their schools, teachers have the opportunity to strike when there is no collective agreement in place," he said. "We need to strike a reasonable balance."
The Liberals' relationship with public sector unions -- who poured their resources into helping them get re-elected three times -- has soured considerably since the passage of Bill 115, which the Tories supported.