2016—2017 · Vol. 44 No. 4



Lessons learned?

Recent events across Canada suggest that governments, particularly Liberal governments, should take heed before they attack the rights of education workers and disregard the freely-negotiated terms of collective agreements.

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that ended the 14-year legal battle between the Liberal government in British Columbia and the BC Teachers’ Federation should send a clear message to governments across the country. The decision, which required several months of deliberation by the highest court, immediately restored clauses deleted by the Campbell Liberals in 2002 related to class size and supports, and staff for special needs students. They passed legislation that stripped provisions and passed a law denying teachers the right to bargain those issues.

In Ontario, we witnessed first-hand the same tactic with the 2012 passage of Bill 115, also known as the Putting Students First Act. This law allowed the McGuinty Liberals to set the rules for bargaining, while imposing collective agreements and limiting the ability of education unions to strike. Terms of the Bill prohibited the OLRB, or any arbitrator or arbitration board, from getting involved in the constitutionality of the Bill or ruling on any alleged conflict with the Human Rights Code. The Bill also prohibited the courts from reviewing the terms and conditions of the collective agreement, imposed a wage freeze, established unpaid professional development days, restructured sick leave, and limited the ability of unions to strike.

Public sector unions, including OSSTF/FEESO, joined a Charter challenge alleging that the government’s unilateral decision to strip rights and impose contracts was unconstitutional. In April of 2016, a decision ruled in favour of the unions, and a remedy is yet to be determined.

On the east coast, another Liberal government seems to making decisions with a similarly flawed approach. The Nova Scotia government, under Stephen McNeil, is continuing its attack on labour through an escalation of the fight it has instigated with its teachers. Earlier in December, Education Minister Karen Casey announced that all schools in the province would be closed starting on December 5. The teachers had announced a work to rule campaign and the excuse given by the government for its action was that students would not be safe. The government also announced that it was working on legislation that would limit the union's legal ability to take strike action. On December 5 the government announced that it was in talks with the teacher union and based on those talks it was changing course. Later that day the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) said that no such talks had occurred.

As the NSTU’s struggle continues, we cannot help but be concerned over the seemingly incessant attempts by governments to undermine the rights of workers in the education sector. We must be vigilant and work together to ensure that future governments remember their losses in the courts and don’t attempt to repeat the actions that took them there.

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