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Liberals to force striking high school teachers back to work

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Education Minister Liz Sandal introduces back-to-work legislation for striking Ontario secondary school teachers at Queen's Park on Monday May 25, 2015. (DAVE ABEL/Toronto Sun)

Education Minister Liz Sandal introduces back-to-work legislation for striking Ontario secondary school teachers at Queen's Park on Monday May 25, 2015. (DAVE ABEL/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO  - 

The Ontario government introduced back-to-work legislation for striking public high school teachers Monday but students aren’t expected to return to class before the end of the week at the earliest.

Education Minister Liz Sandals said she has received an official ruling from the Education Relations Commission that the academic school year for 72,000 students at the Peel, Durham and Rainbow district school boards is in jeopardy — the first step in legislating teachers back on the job.

The government approached NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and PC Leader Patrick Brown for their consent to introduce and pass the legislation in one day, which would allow classes to resume as soon as Tuesday.

“If the parties were to drag it out as long as possible, it could easily take a week to pass the legislation,” Sandals said.

But calling it “undemocratic,” Horwath and her NDP caucus refused to provide the unanimous consent required to move the legislation quickly through the House.

The majority Liberal government should be able to pass the Protecting the School Year Act by Thursday even without her party’s support, Horwath said.

“This government has forced this issue to drag on,” Horwath said. “They have not been serious at the bargaining table.”

Asked what she would tell parents of students who have been out of class for weeks, Horwath said she’d tell them that they will be back in school by the end of the week.

Brown said that while he had problems with how the government has handled collective bargaining with teachers, his party would back the legislation.

“I’m disappointed that it’s come to this,” Brown said. “Our number one goal is to get students back in the classroom, especially when you see students in Grade 12 jeopardized.”

The bill would carry fines of up to $2,000 a day for individuals and up to $25,000 for organizations that failed to heed the back-to-work demand.

Paul Elliott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), said that his members would respect the bill but he predicted more strikes at local school boards.

“(The bill) actually has inflamed the situation,” Elliott said. “We are looking at where we can go in the fall.”

Ontario teachers have been without a collective agreement since the start of the school year.

The government and school boards continue to demand “strips” or concessions from teachers on working conditions, something that is unacceptable to the OSSTF, Elliott said.

Teachers bargain at both the local and provincial level, and can call either local or provincial strikes.

High school teachers at the Durham District School Board hit the picket line on April 20, and their colleagues in Peel and Durham were just a week or so behind.

All of the province’s public elementary teachers are currently working-to-rule, as are OSSTF members in Halton and Ottawa.

At a recent rally at Queen’s Park, presidents of ETFO, CUPE and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) pledged support for striking OSSTF members.

Despite a lack of success at the bargaining table so far, Premier Kathleen Wynne continued to hold out hope Monday for a negotiated settlement to the teacher impasse.

“I have the upmost respect for teachers and the collective bargaining process,” Wynne said.

antonella.artuso@sunmedia.ca

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