Education workers, students, teachers, community swarm Queens Park

Education workers, students, teachers, community swarm Queens Park

CPE joined members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario gathered at Queen’s Park Tuesday August 28th to denounce legislation which will strip charter rights and Ontario labour law of the right to collective bargaining.

Union members took to the stage to voice their concerns over the government’s behaviour, drawing steady cheers from the crowd and angry shouts of the word “shame” at the mere mention of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s name.

Angela Lancelle, an elementary school teacher, said the bill tramples on collective bargaining rights.  “If we don’t fight for that right for our union, what’s it going to do to other unions, to other workers, if we can’t maintain the rights that we have negotiated over the years?” she said.  “Our main concern and focus is for our students. That has never changed. That has never wavered. We are just asking for the respect we deserve.”

The Liberals are bullying tens of thousands of teachers and education workers by trying to force new contracts on them, said NDP MP Olivia Chow.

“I know you as teachers every day teach the kids to work together, not to bully,” she told the crowd.  “You are putting our kids’ education first. You deserve a medal of respect. You should not be legislated.”

While the enormous crowd loudly condemned the bill outside Queen’s Park, McGuinty was forced to defend the bill inside the legislature.

The self-described “education premier” has taken a hit in his effort to curb spending, alienating the very group that’s helped him hang on to power for nine years.

But teachers can’t get a pay hike, because the money is needed to expand full-day kindergarten and avoid larger class sizes, he said.

“We can’t afford that right now,” McGuinty said during question period. “We’re not prepared to do that, and I think teachers understand that.”

But the fight between teachers and the legislation isn’t about the wage freeze, said New Democrat Peter Tabuns, whose party opposes the bill.

We’re not looking for a pay increase but we’re looking for a fair deal,” he said.

Neither the premier nor Education Minister Laurel Broten seemed willing to go out and talk to teachers face-to-face.

The real purpose of the bill isn’t to rein in spending or prevent labour disruption in the province’s schools, but to divert attention from the government’s embarrassments, critics said.

McGuinty is trying to change the channel from scandals like Ontario’s troubled air ambulance service — which is currently under a criminal probe — and the $190-million bill for cancelling a gas plant in the last election to save Liberal seats, said Tabuns.

The teachers’ bill is meant to distract voters with a non-existent crisis in schools to win two byelections that could give them a majority government, he said.

The Liberals are playing up the issue in their byelection campaigns, asking voters to “vote for stability in our schools” on Sept. 6.

The bill would force teachers to take three unpaid days off, halve the number of annual sick days to 10, and end the practice of banking unused sick days to be cashed out at retirement. It would also grant the government the power to ban strikes and lockouts for two years.

The bill will likely become law with the Progressive Conservatives’ help, but the NDP are questioning why the Liberals are trying ram it through the legislature by the end of the week.

Excerpted from THE CANADIAN PRESS 29.08.2012