Wage freeze bill for teachers passes in Ontario legislature

Three unions representing Ontario teachers and education workers declare war against the governing Liberals after a controversial anti-strike bill passes in the legislature.

Unions urge teachers to halt voluntary activities

The Ontario legislature passed legislation Tuesday that will freeze teachers' wages and ban strikes for two years. (CBC)

Three powerful unions representing Ontario teachers and education workers declared war Tuesday against the governing Liberals after a controversial anti-strike bill passed in the legislature.

The two biggest unions representing elementary and secondary school teachers are urging their members to withdraw from any voluntary activities as a show of protest of what they're calling "draconian" legislation.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is telling its members not to do any voluntary activities — such as coaching sports teams — on Wednesday.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is urging its members not to participate in "any school-based or system level meetings of any kind" on Mondays.

They're calling them "McGuinty Mondays" after Premier Dalton McGuinty, Ontario's self-styled "education premier" who is now facing the ire of his former allies who've helped him remain in power for nine years.

CUPE Ontario, which represents 55,000 workers such as custodians and school secretaries, also opposed the legislation.

The unions were also furious after they were asked to leave the legislature shortly after the passage of the bill.

Speaking on CBC Radio's Here and Now show on Tuesday afternoon, ETFO president Sam Hammond said teachers feel "betrayed by this government and are outraged by this government. It will not be business as usual anymore."

He said individual teachers will be free to choose which volunteer activities with students, if any, they will withdraw from. He also described the legislation as undemocratic and unconstitutional.

The minority Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives teamed up to pass the legislation, which will shortly become law once it receives royal assent.

Bill imposes two-year strike ban

The bill imposes new contracts on thousands of teachers that reins in wages and cuts benefits, such as sick days, for two years.

It also gives the government the power, for at least two years, to stop strikes and lockouts.

Unions are fuming that the bill was passed, joining a national civil liberties group that's condemned the legislation as undemocratic.

They say it violates constitutional rights and the unions have vowed to fight the bill all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The governing Liberals recalled the legislature early to get the bill passed before Sept. 1, saying the province couldn't afford the rollover of old contracts.

But since the proposed legislation is retroactive to that date, it would claw back any pay hikes or benefits once it becomes law. The Liberals say the bill, which passed by a vote of 82 to 15, is needed to help them eliminate Ontario's $15-billion deficit.

They've made it clear that they'll do the same with other public-sector workers if they can't negotiate a wage freeze through collective bargaining.

The legislation is based an agreement the province reached with English Catholic and francophone teachers, which included three unpaid days off in the second year and cutting sick days in half to 10 a year.

With files from CBC News