Putting Students First Act

August 27, 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:

  • Zero per cent salary increases in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
  • All teachers will take a 1.5 per cent pay cut in the form of three unpaid professional development days so that younger teachers will continue to move through the grid according to their experience and additional qualifications.
  • Agreement to restructure the grid with a view to long-term, sustainable savings.
  • Elimination of the current retirement gratuity for payment of unused sick days that was responsible for a $1.7 billion liability for school boards.
  • A restructured short-term sick leave plan that would include up to 10 sick days. This sick leave plan would benefit younger teachers by providing income protection for serious illness and improved maternity leave provisions.

If passed, The Putting Students First Act will save the province $2 billion, will avert an expenditure of $473 million, and at the same time, ensure that we don’t take our foot off the pedal of student achievement, that we continue to see progress in our schools, and that we roll out full-day kindergarten and keep our classes small.

In response to concerns raised by the Official Opposition, the diagnostic assessments and fair hiring provisions included in the original draft of the Act will not be a required element for any other union or board that has not already signed an agreement. That means that our partners — OECTA and Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) — who have signed memorandums will be required to have those specific terms included in local collective agreements. But other parties would not unless they have signed an memorandum on or before Aug.31.

However, changes to how diagnostic assessment happens in the context of the classroom and the establishment of fair hiring practices that are consistent across the province remain a priority for the government. As previously announced, the province will be moving forward with a fair hiring regulation and a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) on diagnostic assessments shortly.

In addition, a new requirement has been introduced in the Act that would require the Minister of Education to submit any signed collective agreements to the Speaker of the House and that they are posted online within 14 days to enhance transparency and accountability. There are also three technical changes to the legislation which clarify the intent and ensure full consistency with the already signed and negotiated memorandums.

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 Sept. 1 and the signing of new final collective agreements.

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, AEFO and the Association of Professional Student Services Personnel 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.

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