Liberals target younger instructors in labour battle with teachers

The governing Liberals are targeting younger instructors in their battle to freeze compensation for Ontario teachers.

The governing Liberals are targeting younger instructors in their labour battle with Ontario teachers, but say it's not part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to achieve a wage freeze.

They're prepared to impose "fair hiring practices" in the coming weeks to ensure they're applied in every school board, Education Minister Laurel Broten said Monday.   

The regulation would benefit newer teachers who have been waiting for full-time jobs after years of substitute and occasional teaching, Broten said. 

"Uncertainty will be replaced with the confidence of knowing that you have been given a fair opportunity to secure an open position," she said. 

"When it comes to opportunities for young teachers, the status quo is no longer acceptable."

The regulation would enact part of a contentious agreement reached with English Catholic and francophone teachers, which includes three unpaid days off and stopping teachers from banking sick days.

Two other powerful unions — the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation — have made it clear they won't accept the same deal.

But Broten said she's not trying to pit younger teachers against their more experienced and better paid counterparts.

"That's not the perspective that I am advancing," she said.

It's about finding ways to strengthen the education system, which includes giving younger teachers the opportunity to gain more classroom experience, Broten added.

The regulation would provide guidelines about which teachers can apply for full-time positions and how those positions are filled, such as setting up a roster of qualified instructors for school boards to use in the hiring process.

The minister is misleading new teachers by suggesting the change will lead to more job opportunities, said OSSTF president Ken Coran.   

"The reality is that those jobs are driven by the number of students in our schools," he said in a release.

ETFO head disputes minister's numbers

ETFO president Sam Hammond also took aim at Broten's claim that the province now has agreements covering half of Ontario's teachers.   

ETFO and OSSTF represent more than 93,000 members, while the Catholic and francophone teachers' unions have about 45,000 members.

"It seems that this minister won't let the facts get in the way of a good sound bite," Hammond said at ETFO's annual general meeting Monday, according to prepared remarks.

The government is threatening legislation if boards and teachers don't sign new agreements by Sept. 1 that mirror the deal it reached with the Catholic and francophone teachers.

If they can't get the job done, the old contracts will automatically roll over — something the cash-strapped Liberals say they can't afford. 

No other government — including the one led by former Tory premier Mike Harris — has ever launched such a vicious attack on teachers, said Hammond.   

"This is not the government ETFO members supported in the last election," he said.

Hammond said he offered to go back to the negotiating table if they could all agree on the rules and all issues — not just what the government wants — were on the table. But Broten said the time for talks had passed, he said.

"The government's approach has been rigid and remains uncompromising."

The Liberals have attacked a provision that allows teachers to cash out unused sick days at retirement. But politicians also receive gratuities, including severance allowances when they resign or are voted out of office, Hammond said.

The Liberals' "unconstitutional wage scheme" for teachers would likely be overturned by the courts after a costly legal battle, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

But Premier Dalton McGuinty said he's confident the legislation could withstand a court challenge, because his government can demonstrate that it tried to negotiate a deal first.

Horwath insists the minority Liberals are manufacturing a crisis in their efforts to win a majority government.

"They're willing to blow the financial brains out of this province for the purposes of making some political wins in advance of two byelections that are coming in September," Horwath said. 

"I think that's unacceptable and I think that's a high risk game that the taxpayers are going to end up paying for."

Both opposition parties have slammed the province's agreement with Catholic and francophone teachers, but neither will say how they would vote if the Liberals end up following through on their threat.

The Conservatives say the agreement doesn't really freeze wages, because many teachers will still be able to move up the salary grid that rewards experience and better qualifications. They want the government to legislate an immediate wage freeze for all broader public sector workers.

McGuinty has refused to say if any legislation to impose a deal on teachers would be a confidence motion, meaning its defeat would automatically trigger an election.