OPSEU launches Charter challenge of back-to-work legislation

by | Nov 25, 2017 | Faculty Strike, Headlines, News

Sunny Bains
News Reporter

During the final days of the strike the NDP decided to block the Liberal’s plan to get students and faculty back into classrooms.

Teachers’ grievances were not addressed, the party argued. The government issued back-to-work legislation forcing striking teachers, counsellors and librarians to return to the classroom. It was something the government could’ve done earlier during the strike, instead of letting it run five weeks, the NDP said.

There were alleged shortcomings with the legislation which led the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, who represents faculty, to launch a constitutional challenge to the law.

Talking to the reporters at Queen’s Park, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she doesn’t believe in back-to-work legislation.

“New Democrats don’t believe in back-to-work legislation. It’s something we fundamentally think is a breach of people’s charter rights,” she said.

“This is a democracy and within democracies political parties, in and out of the government, exercise their rights, and I suppose from the standpoint of the NDP, it was exercising its democratic right,” said William Walcott, who teaches Humanities and Sociology at Humber College.

The NDP’s tactics could only have limited effect, and the party knew what the end result would be. By delaying the back-to-work legislation, the New Democrats obliged the house to sit through last weekend to get the legislation passed rather than completing the process on Friday.

NDP’s weekend objections had a negligible impact on the timing of return to classes. The current semester will be extended until Dec. 22 in many colleges, the winter reading week will be removed, and an extra week will be added to the school year next spring to make up for lost time.

Joel Willett, president of the College Student Alliance, told reporters at Queen’s Park that this is going to be a very busy rest of the semester.

“Students have indicated to us they are very frustrated. This deal should have been done weeks ago,” Willett said.
Deputy premier Deb Matthews, who’s also minister of advanced education, acknowledged her government will look at why the system failed students.

“We’re going to take a really good look at the process of bargaining and see if there’s any way we can prevent this from ever happening again,” she said.

“It could have been Monday,” Matthews said. “For people who have classes Monday, it’s another week…it is a meaningful delay and completely unnecessary.”

Horwath termed the bill as “anti-worker” and said it deserved debate and scrutiny.

“Whether that process started Thursday or Friday makes no difference in terms of the outcome,” she said.
OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said while he couldn’t fault Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government for introducing the back-to-work legislation, he said the union launched its legal challenge on the legislation’s constitutionality citing the Charter’s Sec. 2(d), protection of freedom of association.

“For over a decade, the Supreme Court of Canada has viewed collective bargaining as a protected right under the Charter,” Thomas said in a prepared statement Nov. 23. “More recently, the court has extended that protection to the right to strike.

“In the case of the colleges, the provincial government had the power to direct the employer to make the moves necessary to bargain a settlement,” he said. “The government chose legislation instead. They trampled on the right to collective bargaining when they clearly had other choices.”

Thomas said the premier only offered a small window for negotiations Nov. 16 after 86 per cent of faculty turned down the College Employers Council offer.

“That three-hour deadline was a sham designed to provide legal cover for legislation that was already a foregone conclusion. Instead of directing the colleges to settle, the government let them walk away from the table, then came back with a hammer.”