Labour board to rule on legality of Ontario education strike

By CityNews Staff

A “frenzied and sleep-deprived” Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing to determine the legality of a strike by education workers stretched into a third day on Sunday, Nov. 6 with a lawyer representing the government arguing it doesn’t matter whether the contract that now binds 55,000 employees was negotiated with their input or imposed upon them.

Ferina Murji said strikes are prohibited in the midst of any contract, not just one that was ratified by union membership.

“A collective agreement is a collective agreement is a collective agreement,” she said.

Murji made the comments on the third day of arguments before the board after thousands of workers walked off the job on Friday, Nov. 4 in protest of government legislation that imposed a contract on them and took away their right to strike.

“With 55,000 people not attending schools across the province, that means millions of students and their parents are left with nowhere to go, are left not learning, not getting the education that the Education Act ensures they will get,” Murji said, stressing the importance of the board’s intervention.

The government is seeking a ruling that their walkout is illegal, while the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – which represents education assistants, custodians and librarians – contends a job action is a form of legitimate political protest. CUPE has indicated the job action could go on indefinitely.

CUPE’s president confirmed that the union would hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 7 “to talk to journalists about the growing fightback against the Ford government’s Bill 28.”

Brian O’Byrne heard arguments for 16 hours on Saturday, with the hearing stretching into the early hours of Sunday morning, before resuming just after 7 a.m.

O’Byrne noted the “frenzied and sleep-deprived context of the hearings,” which he said he hoped to wrap up on Sunday.

The Ford government included the notwithstanding clause in its education-worker legislation that banned strikes and imposed a four-year contract on union members, saying it intended to use the clause to guard against constitutional challenges.

Citing case law, CUPE lawyer Steven Barrett argued Ontario used the clause to address labour issues in an unprecedented and inappropriate way, adding if it complies with a government request to declare the strike illegal, it would send a message that labour laws and collective bargaining rights no longer exist.

Murji countered the labour board risks undermining the province’s own labour laws if it fails to declare the walkout illegal.

Poll finds Ford government to blame for walkout

Meanwhile, a majority of Ontarians blame the Ford government for the current education workers’ job action, according to a new poll.

The Abacus Data survey conducted on Nov. 4 and 5 among 1,000 adults shows six in 10 blame the government for schools being closed, and 71 per cent want the province to negotiate a fair deal with the education workers rather than continue with its current approach.

Half of those asked also think it was a bad idea for the government to use the notwithstanding clause to force a deal on education workers and limit their ability to strike.

Almost half indicated they would support other unions walking off the job in solidarity to protest the government’s actions.

“This poll confirms what we already knew: that the majority of people support education workers, that they see through the Ford government’s lies about working for workers and students,” said CUPE-OSBCU president Laura Walton, noting that the union did not commission the poll.

“Seven out of 10 Ontarians want the government to negotiate a fair deal. That starts with repealing Bill 28, an unjust law which Ontarians know is like giving a schoolyard bully a sledgehammer.”

David Coletto, the chief executive officer of Abacus Data, told Wake Up With Rob Snow on Nov. 7 that the survey shows more people are paying attention to what's happening in the province's education system than before.

“Eighty per cent were aware that the government passed a law that forces those workers back to work,” he said. “Even three in four were aware that they used a notwithstanding clause to do it. I think what's more interesting is the level of attention people are paying.”

Listen to the full interview with David Coletto below: 




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