By Richard Leitner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Strike action by high school teachers at 20 school boards across Ontario is set to expand to Hamilton public schools this Monday (Nov. 19).
Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Hamilton-Wentworth, said her members will join others in refusing to attend staff meetings, fill in for absent colleagues and talk to parents outside school hours.
The partial withdrawal of services began on Nov. 12 after contract talks between the OSSTF and province broke off.
Mancini said the measures “focus on administrative duties” that least affect students and she’s not sure if strike actions will escalate because they are being coordinated provincially.
“We are not in a normal situation here, so for me to predict what is going to happen is really difficult,” she said.
“The bottom line is our members are in the classrooms, teaching their students, making sure they get an education. They’re still helping students; they’re still going that extra mile for students and they will continue to do so.”
Public board chair Tim Simmons said he’s hopeful the provincial talks will resume before Monday and his board will have to assess the situation “day by day” if the job actions do proceed.
“At this time I think the important thing is that, from a board’s perspective and a system’s perspective, we stay calm and react to things as the shifting political sands require us to,” he said.
“We hope that this causes little disruption to the actual student while we maintain business-as-usual in the schools from the student’s perspective.”
At issue is the Liberal government’s decision to impose a framework for new contracts through Bill 115, officially known as the Putting Students First Act.
The framework, already accepted by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, includes a two-year wage freeze, an end to retirement payouts for up to six months of unused sick days and a cut in annual sick days to 10 from 20.
Bill 115 also bans strike action for two years, a prohibition that kicks in after Dec. 31, the deadline for teachers to reach a deal before one is imposed on them.
But it also gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to intervene in any dispute before then. In a CBC radio interview Tuesday morning, she said she is monitoring the situation closely and will act if student safety is put at risk.
Simmons said he doesn’t he doesn’t believe the partial job action does so.
“From our position today, I don’t see how it affects safety,” he said. “Once the 19th (of November) comes, we’ll take it day by day.”
Mancini said the OSSTF has offered reasonable proposals that include a wage freeze and they “absolutely” meet the province’s fiscal realities despite the minister’s insistence they don’t.
“You’re trying to negotiate under this draconian legislation,” she said. “It’s really difficult.”