Education minister to impose contracts on Ontario teachers

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten has announced she will impose contracts on Ontario teachers, a power afforded to her by the controversial Bill 115.
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten speaks in Toronto on Thursday to announce the Liberal government is imposing new contracts on tens of thousands of teachers and education workers in public schools across the province. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten has announced she will impose contracts on Ontario teachers, powers afforded to her by the controversial Bill 115.

"I have been left with no other reasonable option than to exercise my authority under the Putting Students First Act to put in place fair and balanced collective agreements across the province in all school boards that were unable to reach and ratify local collective agreements with the unions by Dec. 31, 2012," she said at a news conference on Thursday.

She said the contracts the province will impose are similar to ones already signed with Catholic teachers, whch include pay freezes for most teachers, a cut in the number of sick days allowed each year and a limit to how many sick days teachers can cash out when they reach retirement.

The province gained the power to impose contracts when Bill 115 was passed last fall. The legislation also allows the government to ban teachers' strikes.

The move causes Chantal Mancini, president of the local bargaining unit of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, to feel "utter disgust," she said.

"It's unprecedented and it's unbelievable that the government would attack collective bargaining rights and attack democracy."

Lisa Hammond, president of the local bargaining unit of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, also condemned the measures.

"We're angry and extremely disappointed that the government has gone down the road of misusing their authority to take away our rights when it was convenient for them."

Mancini added that she and other OSSTF leaders will meet next week to discuss next steps.

"This level of government can expect a larger political battle moving forward," she said.

In December, elementary teachers staged one-day strikes across the province to protest the law. Many teachers have also pulled back from supervising extra-curricular activities, such as coaching sports teams.

Teachers' unions have said they will stage protests in 2013, but have not made clear whether this means more one-day strikes, which are now illegal under the new legislation.

"I urge teachers not to move to illegal strikes," Broten said during her announcement.

"It is my sincere hope that we will see extra-curricular activities come back in the new session," she noted. 

Bill 115 to be repealed: Broten

Broten also said Thursday the government will repeal Bill 115 now that the contracts are in place, adding the bill has become a "lightning rod" in the dispute between the province and teachers.

She said the bill has served its purpose by leading to an agreement, and described the move to repeal it as an act of "good faith."

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, spoke at a news conference later on Thursday morning.

"This is an extremely cynical use of power that makes little sense," he said of Broten's announcement.

The government's move, Hammond said, is creating confusion for teachers' unions and their membership, adding that he has "no idea" what the new contracts would look like or whether they would differ from school board to school board.

"I am still trying to figure out what was said this morning and where this government is headed."

Hammond didn't give specific details about how his union would proceed, but hinted at further protests.

"You cannot expect . . . that it will be business as usual in schools going into the new year."

With files from the Canadian Press