Is there a better way than strikes to resolve labour disputes in education?
Teacher strikes: Ontario teachers are mounting rotating strikes or job actions. Last year many BC teachers felt it necessary to walkout. Parents and students say they pay the price. What are the consequences? Is there a better way?
Teacher strikes do not happen often but when they do they frequently bring with them a sense of disruption and dislocation not to mention bitterness that is not easily forgotten. Within this current school year we have witnessed teachers in two provinces walking the picket lines because negotiations failed: British Columbia and now Ontario.
In British Columbia, the beginning of the school year was cancelled because teachers were still out after starting rotating strikes the previous spring. That dispute was eventually settled after students lost five weeks of school but the bitterness endures as some remaining issues work their way through the courts.
In Ontario, up to 70-thousand high-school students are out of school because their teachers are on strike and that is just three out of 72 school boards. Job actions are rotating through other school boards. Work to rule, no extra-curricular activities such sports and music, no comments on report cards, no standardized tests are just a few of options in job actions.
Governments inevitably are trying to cut costs. Teachers are inevitably trying to maintain what they consider basic working conditions and salaries. Parents and students say they are the ones who pay the price.
In most of these disputes both teachers and government say educational issues are at stake, such as class size and composition. Should educational issues be part of workplace discussions? A B.C. court ruling last month says they should not. But that question might be headed for the Supreme Court of Canada.
What's going wrong when school labour disputes end up in a strike? Are negotiations not made in good faith? Is there too much politics in the mix? Some say teachers, because they are a public service, should not be allowed to strike. But the right to strike is the most basic of labour rights.
Why don't mediation and arbitration work? Governments say arbitrators don't adequately take into account the political and financial pressures on them and therefore their solutions are too expensive.
Our question today: "Is there a better way than teacher strikes to resolve labour disputes in education?"
I'm Rex Murphy on CBC Radio One and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 this is Cross Country Checkup.
Labour lawyer, Financial Post columnist. He practices employment law in eight provinces and is author of The Law of Dismissal for Human Resources Professionals.
National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
- School strike law not clear enough, labour board hearing told
- Talks with Ontario secondary teachers resume, while labour board rules on legality of strike
- Ottawa high school teachers to begin job action
- B.C. teachers lose latest court fight on class size, composition (April 30, 2015)
- B.C. teachers' strike boosted private school enrolment
- B.C. teachers' strike: Public school students back in class today (Sept. 22, 2014)
- Kathleen Wynne willing to legislate striking Ontario teachers back to work
- Teachers deserve no more — or less — than private sector workers, by Howard Levitt
- Ontario's schools escalate the strike they can't explain, by Dave Reevely
- Don't let standardized tests be a casualty of Ontario's negotiations with teachers, by David Johnson
- Editorial: There is no reason Ontario's teachers should be on strike
- 'I don't like this agreement': B.C. teachers reluctantly ratify six-year deal with 7.25% salary increase (Sept. 18, 2014)
- Bitter B.C. teachers strike is a lesson in the dangers of politicizing the classroom, by Kelly McParland (Sept. 4, 2014)
- Prisoners of public education, by Marni Soupcoff (Sept. 4, 2014)
- B.C. teachers battle tied to bitter, decades-long legal fight over class size, by Brian Hutchinson (Sept. 2, 2104)
Globe and Mail
- Ontario Premier Wynne open to back-to-work legislation to end teachers strike
- Legality of teachers strike hinges on three small but confusing words
- Ontario labour board to decide if high school teachers' strikes are illegal
- Ontario seeking advice on whether teachers' strikes could jeopardize school year
- Ontario standardized tests cancelled, intensifying teachers' labour dispute
- B.C. teachers ratify six-year contract (Sept. 19, 2014)
- Editorial: The B.C. teachers' contract that just might last (Sept. 19, 2014)
- 'Disillusioned' B.C. teachers grudgingly voting on new contract (Sept. 18, 2014)
- B.C.'s teachers are the losers in tentative deal, Gary Mason (Sept. 16, 2014)
- Does class size matter?
- Frustration mounts over 'glacial pace' of action on teacher strikes
- New bargaining law unclear on teacher strikes, hearing told
- B.C. Teachers, Students Back In Classrooms After Strike, by Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press (Sept. 22, 2014)
- Should Teachers Be Satisfied? by Bill Tieleman (Sept. 23, 1014)
- Strike Ends as Teachers Accept Contentious Contract, by Katie Hyslop (Sept. 19, 2014)
- Three Labour Lessons from the Teachers' Strike, by Tom Kertes (Sept. 19, 2014)