By Gerry Barker
From the GuelphSpeaks provincial files
Posted October 6, 2015
Thousands of Ontario parents, students and education workers are caught up in a maelstrom of pity, selfishness and pettiness. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Public Workers Union (CUPE) union enforced job action tactics that remain unresolved and unrepentant.
Both unions have been without contracts for a year.
The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, describes the latest job action of allowing unlocked doors in Halton schools as “worrisome.” She went on to say that she was surprised that “this was a way (the union) has chosen as direction for disruption.”
Minister, this is what happens when there is a major breakdown in the collective bargaining process. Your staff has bungled any attempt to settle these job actions that only hurt the parents, and students in terms of their pre-high school preparation and the graduated learning process.
If, by some miracle, settlement is reached before October 19, federal election day, the theory that the unions are trying to embarrass the Ontario Liberal government, will be a mere footnote in history.
For the unions, this is a continuation of jacking up demands for more pay, better working conditions and contract benefits that go beyond the province’s ability to afford their demands.
The blame goes back a few years when the Liberals were running the government. Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne, who preceded her as Minister of Education, both arrived in the Legislature as former school trustees.
Paying off the teachers is the solution
You would think they would know a little bit about their chosen vocation, learned in the front lines of education. What they both have practised as overseers of the Ontario education system is to pay off the unions to keep the school doors open.
In 2013, Sandals rolled back the McGuinty clamp down of education worker’s contracts and paid some $463 million to mollify the unions and stop job action by the high school teachers.
This time, they settled with every teacher’s unions, giving a 2.5 per cent increase and more benefits. But the elementary teachers refused to accept the terms and have refused to perform basic work assignments including communication with the parents of their pupils.
Sandals declared that the increase in pay is “net zero.” In other words, the allocated budget would not increase because funds would be taken from other budget sources. Sandals did not identify those sources. All this was done despite the demand of the Premier that there wasn’t money to cover teacher’s demands for more money, smaller classes and benefits.
This was the financial chicanery reminiscent of the old baseball triple play, “ Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Keep the money moving around so nobody notices.
Here is what one Sachin Maharaj, Toronto teacher and PhD student at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), described as the elementary teacher’s job:
“Outside the classroom, elementary teachers also have a range of other activities. This includes regularly communicating with parents, meeting with colleagues and administration, organizing school assemblies and events, planning field trips, maintaining up-to-date student records, as well as running student clubs and extracurricular activities.”
Oh, and the teachers also have to teach specific courses based on the ages of their students.
Getting 12 months pay for ten months work
But isn’t that what the job is all about? The elementary teachers have the responsibility to mould their young students’ attitudes, advance their learning abilities, and develop strong social skills. This is the prelude to being a responsible and successful member of society.
It all starts in kindergarten. Along the eight-year pathway to adulthood, the association of teachers and parents must be maintained and cooperative.
When the teacher’s unions strike, either part-time or out the door that trust disappears due to the teachers’ lack of responsibility that they stress on their students.
That’s what has happened in Ontario where the provincial education ministry charged with funding, maintaining and creating solutions, has abandoned the trust that the stakeholders believed they had.
The responsibility for this mess is shared both by government and union leadership.
The solution is growing among Ontarians that teachers are an essential service and should not be allowed to strike or conduct job action. The collective bargaining system does not work as the unions have timed their strikes to deeply affect the students as crucial times of the school year. Last spring was an example of work stoppages that affected students particularly those completing high school.
Threatening and using circumstances to force their demands on the backs of students and their parents is the lowest denominator ever reached by public service labour. The combination of a gutless provincial government and aggressive unions leaves only the innocent stakeholders at risk.
Indeed, a “ship of fools” has destroyed our trust.