Ontario teacher unions launch court challenge against wage-cap legislation

Ontario’s four teacher unions are launching a court challenge against the Ford government’s wage-cap legislation, arguing it interferes with their collective bargaining rights.

Bill 124, which passed in early November but is retroactive to last June, limits any salary increases across the broader public sector to one per cent a year, for the next three years, in what the government said was a way to contain costs while it trims the deficit.

The legislation impacts employees in schools, post-secondary institutions and hospitals, among others — more than a million in total.

The four teacher unions involved in the court challenge are currently in difficult negotiations with the provincial government after their contracts expired last August.

They believe they were targetted by the legislation, given it was proposed and passed during their negotiations.

The province’s public elementary and high school teachers have been involved in escalating job action, including work to rule — with secondary teachers having now held two, one-day strikes.

The Catholic teachers are in a legal strike position Dec. 21, and the province’s French teachers have scheduled strike votes for later this month.

All say they are frustrated with the pace of talks and cuts the government is seeking.

At the time the legislation passed, Remi Sabourin — president of the Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO) said “the Ford government will stop at nothing to impose its will, if only for ideological reasons … the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us the right to negotiate a win-win agreement, but Ford and his government are choosing to disregard that right.”

“This is not about money, it is about the right to negotiate without government interference,” Sabourin said Thursday morning of the Charter challenge.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has insisted that salary is the main issue in negotiations.

The three other unions involved in the court challenge are the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. There are four separate challenges but the unions say they want to be heard all together.

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The secondary school teachers’ union is seeking a wage increase equal to the cost of living, or about two per cent this year. They return to the bargaining table next Monday and Tuesday.

In October, the province reached a deal with 55,000 support staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ that included a one per cent wage increase. Although the deal was ratified by a majority of members and reinstated millions of dollars to help rehire workers, the union was dissatisfied on the small salary bump.

Kristin Rushowy

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