By Preeteesh Peetabh Singh
Teachers in Ontario are fighting a battle against the government. They are opposing a controversial bill that would impose a wage freeze for two years, cut their benefits, and restrict collective bargaining rights. It will force teachers to take three unpaid days off, reduce the number of annual sick days to 10, and end the practice of cashing out unpaid sick days at retirement. This bill, if passed, will also mean that teachers will not be able to strike or be locked out by school boards for two years.
On Aug. 28, a massive crowd including teachers from all parts of Ontario, parents and even students gathered at Queen’s Park to protest against Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s legislation. This new law curbing teachers’ rights is widely viewed as a government strategy to battle against the province’s $15 billion deficit, and wage freezes are expected to be extended to other public sector workers like police and firefighters.
Thousands of protesters gathered at Queens Park in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to make their voices heard.
John Conlon, a teacher from the Montcalm High School in London, said, “The rally was a huge success with a great turnout. Teachers don’t mind accepting reduced wages as their major priority is education and the well being of their students, but the collective bargaining right cannot be snatched away from them and that is what they are fighting for.”
He also expressed concerns about the wage freeze would be discouraging for younger teachers coming in as there will be no movement up the grid for them in terms of salary.
The rally was organized by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 76,000 elementary public school teachers and education professionals across the province and is one of the largest teacher unions in Canada. Other unions such as Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario (CUPE) also gathered at the Queen’s Park extending their support.
The president of ETFO, Sam Hammond addressed the crowd and defended the teachers by saying that this is not about money, but about democracy and demotic rights that they are fighting for. Other noted speakers at the rally for education included Ken Coran, president of OSSTF, Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario and Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
The unions and the members present at the rally vowed to challenge the legislation all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if the bill was to be passed.
The participants at the rally were outraged and carried signs like ‘Mr. McGuinty, stop bullying us!’, They also chanted slogans and shouts like “shame! shame!” at the mere mention of Dalton McGuinty from the speakers.
Some of the teachers threatened to quit thier jobs in retaliation and go back to clubs and coaching for a living.