Putting Students First Act
August 16, 2012
Ontario intends to introduce legislation that, if passed, would ensure school contracts fit the government's fiscal and policy priorities and contain measures to secure two years free from labour disruptions.
The Putting Students First Act, if passed, would require that school boards and local bargaining units of teachers and support staff accept local agreements consistent with the priorities reflected in the Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) and similar agreements negotiated before Aug. 31.
Specifically, the proposed Act, if passed, would require that the parties negotiate or accept local agreements that are consistent with the following provisions and parameters:
These and other items, if applied provincewide, would save the province $250 million in 2012-13, growing to $540 million in 2013-14. In addition, the province would achieve one-time savings of $1.4 billion with the elimination of banked sick days. These savings would be found while continuing to support student achievement and protect full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, and 20,000 teaching and support staff jobs.
The proposed legislation, if passed, would take effect on Sept. 1, but provide until Dec. 31, 2012 for school boards, teachers and support staff to engage in collective bargaining. This would allow the government's education partners to reach agreements that respect local circumstances while also including the parameters set out in the legislation. Where any agreements do not meet the standards of the legislation, the Minister of Education will have the power to withhold approval and the parties will risk having agreements imposed.
Current teacher and support staff agreements expire on Aug. 31, 2012. If these are not replaced by September 1, the terms of existing contracts will automatically roll over. If this were to happen, the cost for teachers moving up the grid and for continuing the existing retirement gratuity and sick leave provisions would be $473 million. The proposed legislation includes a provision that would claw back any increases to wages and benefits that occurred between September 1 and the signing of new final collective agreements.
In addition to the proposed act, the government is prepared to introduce a regulation that will ensure occasional teachers benefit from fair hiring practices in every school board across the province. This regulation will better position Ontario's hard working and dedicated occasional teachers for long-term assignments or permanent jobs in schools.
Since February, the government has been working diligently and in good faith to establish a new provincial framework agreement with its education partners.
Partners like OECTA, the Association des Enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) and the Association of Professional Student Services Personnel (APSSP) engaged in a constructive dialogue, and signed agreements that served the best interests of the province and their members. But with September just around the corner, many other unions have yet to sign an agreement.
As a result, the government must now take action to provide certainty for students and families that the school year will start as scheduled and will not be interrupted at any time by labour disruptions. These steps will also ensure that the single most important step to growing Ontario's economy – eliminating the deficit – and the protection of the gains made in education, will not be compromised by labour agreements that do not reflect the province's fiscal reality.