Cross Country Checkup

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 BC teachers felt it necessary to walk out. Parents and students say they pay the price. Is there a better way?
Nearly a thousand parents, teachers and students showed up to support the teachers' call for binding arbitration. (CBC)

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?

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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.


Brendan Sweeney
​Teaches at the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton
Twitter: @McMasterU

Tamsyn Bergmann
​Reporter and editor for Canadian Press
Twitter: @tamsynburgmann

Howard Levitt
Labour lawyer, Financial Post columnist. He practices employment law in eight provinces and is author of The Law of Dismissal for Human Resources Professionals.

Paul Moist
National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
Twitter: @CUPENatPres


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