The public surely has a right to know

September 23, 2015   ·   0 Comments

FOR SOME REASON, there’s a longstanding tradition of secrecy surrounding labour negotiations, be they in the private or public sector.

However, we submit that occasions can arise when it become appropriate to disclose the positions being taken by parties that have been unable to reach a contractual agreement or at least to reach a point where the union involved agrees to submit the employers’ final offer to the members for a vote.

One such occasion has surely arisen in the case of the now-stalled talks between the Ontario government and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

The last talks ended on Sept. 11 when the government side, which included representatives of the province’s school boards, produced an offer which it has portrayed as basically the same one that has now been ratified by the province’s secondary school teachers and Catholic elementary and secondary teachers.

The pact accepted by the other unions apparently involves wage increases of 2.5 per cent but results in what the government portrays as having a “net zero” impact on the education budget, thanks, no doubt, to shrinking enrolments.

So why on earth are we experiencing a “work to rule” campaign by the ETFO members and the possibility (inevitability?) of rotating one-day strikes?

Is it because Premier Kathleen Wynne wanted to ram down an unfair contract before the Oct. 19 federal election in hopes it would help federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau?

Or was it, (perhaps more likely) that ETFO President Sam Hammond hoped that continuing labour strife here during the election campaign would help the federal New Democratic Party and leader Tom Mulcair?

As we see it, the current situation isn’t going to help anyone, but is certainly hurting public school students and will also hurt their parents if it leads to strike action.

As for Mr. Hammond’s attempt to link the government’s action to Ms. Wynne’s support for the Trudeau troops, it fails to explain why the government hasn’t gone back to the bargaining table to find means of satisfying the ETFO demands (whatever they are) without departing from a “net zero” costing.

Thus far, Mr. Hammond hasn’t let it be known why the ETFO has rejected the government offer, apart from telling reporters that public elementary school teachers have different needs from those of other teachers and do not want a “cookie-cutter” deal.

That leaves us wondering just what those needs might be, in view of the fact “cookie-cutter” deals have been reached with the unions representing teachers in Catholic and French language elementary schools.

It also leaves us wondering how much, if anything, the ETFO leadership has been telling its members about the rejected offer and just what remains at issue with the Province and/or the school boards.

In the circumstances, we remain convinced that the legislation mandating two-tier (province-wide and local school board) bargaining sessions ought to have included provisions for arbitration once the negotiations fail, on grounds that would be far preferable to strikes or lockouts.

However, an appropriate alternative today would be for the government to disclose the terms of the offer to the ETFO and the offers accepted by the other unions and introduce legislation requiring an immediate resumption of talks with the ETFO, with a time limit being set beyond which the government’s final offer would be made subject to a secret-ballot vote by the ETFO membership.

And if Mr. Hammond and his colleagues succeeded in convincing the members that the offer should be rejected, the same legislation should require a final 30-day mediation period during which a strike would be unlawful, and failing that the imposition of arbitration.

In such an unusual situation the arbitrator(s) would be bound in advance to impose a settlement that would not depart from the “net zero” costing principle.

Whatever else might be said concerning the option of arbitration, it surely is better than strikes that target our children and their parents.

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