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'The government blinked': Union to end Ontario education walkout after Ford promises to repeal strike law

Ontario schools are set to reopen Tuesday after a union representing some 55,000 education workers who walked off the job last Friday won a promise from Doug Ford's government that it will repeal legislation that imposed a contract and banned them from striking.

Education minister says Bill 28 will be repealed 'in its entirety'

CUPE to end labour strike after government promises to repeal Bill 28

28 days ago
Duration 1:03
Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says she hopes the union's gesture of "good faith" in ending its walkout is met with similar good faith by the government at the bargaining table.

A union representing some 55,000 Ontario education workers who walked off the job Friday says protest sites "will be collapsed" starting Tuesday and workers will be back after Premier Doug Ford said he will repeal legislation that imposed a contract and banned them from striking.

That means school will be back in session — for now.

Representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said at a news conference Monday that Ford had put his commitment in writing, and that both sides would restart contract negotiations. Leaders from numerous other public- and private-sector unions were also in attendance.

A statement from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce confirmed that the government will repeal Bill 28 "in its entirety." The law included the notwithstanding clause to circumvent any constitutional challenge to the legislation. The clause allows legislatures to override parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year term.

"CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table. In return, at the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years," Lecce said. 

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News on Monday that government officials will be bringing legislation in to repeal Bill 28 on Nov. 14, and "plan to be back at the table to negotiate as soon as possible."

The legislature is not currently sitting, so MPPs would have needed to have been called back early for the law to be repealed this week. 

Ford announced earlier in the day that he was willing to repeal the law, but only if CUPE ends its walkout, which has closed hundreds of schools for in-person learning across the province.

WATCH | Ford appeals to CUPE to end its protest of Bill 28:

Ontario ready to rescind anti-strike law if CUPE ends walkout

28 days ago
Duration 0:52
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his government will repeal a controversial law to end a strike by education workers if the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) stops its ongoing walkout.

Labour board ruling pending

Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says she hopes the union's gesture of "good faith" in ending its walkout is met with similar good faith by the government at the bargaining table.

CUPE members walked off the job despite the law banning them from doing so, and the government had taken them to the Ontario Labour Relations Board on the legality of the job action. A ruling is still pending.

CUPE members and supporters rallied outside of Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday. (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

Walton said CUPE education workers will be back on the job Tuesday, though it is up to individual school boards to decide when schools closed by the protest will reopen. She added that CUPE workers are still technically in a legal strike position.

"We would have to serve a five-day notice," Walton said. "But we're going into this not with our eyes on that, but our eyes on getting a real deal."

A date has not yet been set for the return to the bargaining table.

Several Ontario school boards, including the Toronto District School Board and the York Region District School Board, say they are planning to reopen for in-person learning Tuesday. Parents should check their school board's website for the latest on that front. 

Mark Hancock, national president of CUPE, said that Bill 28 was a "regressive attack that united the labour movement like never before" and commended the education workers, 70 per cent of whom are women, on their commitment to the protest.

"They took on the Ford government, and the government blinked," Hancock said. "We've shown that when under attack, our movement is strong and we will stand up for each other."

"When you come for one of us, you come for all of us," added JP Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

"The workers, united, will shut this province down whenever we need to."

Ford says government was 'left with no choice' on Bill 28

Speaking earlier, Ford said he has no regrets about passing Bill 28 and that his government was "left with no choice." He added that after two years of pandemic-related disruptions to learning, CUPE's threat to strike required "unprecedented solutions."

Both the government and CUPE accused the other side of walking away from the bargaining table.

Union members including representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) pose for a picture after a press conference announcing a return to work for some 55,000 Ontario education workers at the Sheraton Centre hotel in Toronto on Nov. 7, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The government originally offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, but four-year deal imposed by Bill 28 would give 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.

CUPE has said that framing is not accurate because the raises actually depend on hourly wages and pay scales, so the majority of workers who earn less than $43,000 in a year wouldn't get 2.5 per cent.

CUPE has said its workers, who make on average $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in schools and had been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent. The union said it cut its wage proposal by more than half in a counter-offer it gave the government last week and made "substantial" moves in other areas as well.

With files from The Canadian Press

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