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Analysis

Why Doug Ford’s Talking Points About Ontario Education Workers are Misleading and Wrong

Doug Ford claims he’s concerned about the ‘emotional well-being’ of children while imposing wage and benefit cuts on education workers

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford says eroding the charter rights of Ontario’s education workers is about protecting the “emotional wellbeing” of children even though his government is fighting to impose wage and benefit cuts on workers and block language protecting their job security.

On October 31, the Ford government tabled the Keeping Students in Schools Act that would pre-emptively declare labour action education workers unlawful — impacted jobs include custodial staff, early childhood educators and educational assistants.

Since this action would be unconstitutional, Ford will use the notwithstanding clause to get around the Human Rights Act and workers rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ford claims the “mental, physical and emotional wellbeing” of children justifies his use of the notwithstanding clause to override education workers’ rights.

Since August, the Ford government has been half-heartedly negotiating with CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, the first round in this year’s education contract talks.

Despite promising a “fair deal” for workers, The crown’s offer, on August 15, was a pay and benefit cut. In the interest of “fiscal sustainability,” the same government that gifted over $200 million in corporate subsidies to ineligible companies demanded workers accept a real pay cut – of 1.25% against 11% inflation and a cut to their short-term disability pay of at least 10%.

In particular, the text of the bill removes a clause in Letter of Understanding # 3 which would otherwise block “trade-offs” between workers of different classifications from maintenance to ECEs.

The union notes, the government’s proposal would mean “gutting job security language, giving boards greater ability to cut jobs and even entire classifications.”

The government’s offer rejected language which would ensure each kindergarten classroom has a designated Early Childhood Educator. Currently, it notes, school boards can get around this obligation in classes with fewer than 16 students.

According to CUPE, “school boards often play with classroom placements to minimize the number of DECEs employed, denying the two-educator model to many students.”

Additionally, the government’s offer rejected proposals to grant ECEs and Educational Assistants (EAs), who work with students with disabilities, 30 minutes of paid preparatory time.

The government’s offer also rejects calls to expand job protection funds like the Supports for Students Fund which helps pay for, among other things, special education. Instead, it promises that the “existing funding” for the SSF “will be maintained for the duration of the agreement.”

In the text of the bill, the fund is set to rise by just 1.8% per year – also well below inflation.

Ford’s government has also refused to give the union’s members wage increases that are adjusted for inflation.

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Since 2012, the union calculates, prices have risen 19.5%. Yet, over those ten years, wage increases have averaged less than 1% per year – rising a total of 8.8%, largely due to legislated wage cuts and freezes. After two months of negotiations, the government’s October 30 offer changed little, raising the pay “increase” to 1.5 and 2.5% per year – amounting to another cut.

“Children, parents, and workers all deserve better than Ford’s underspending, cuts, and low wages,” OSBCU president Laura Walton said.

As PressProgress reported previously, despite claiming to be spending more on education than any premier history – the government has actually cut school funding by $1 billion since 2020.

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Mitchell Thompson
Reporter
Mitchell Thompson is PressProgress’ Ontario reporter. His reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, and public services and privatization, and public accountability.

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