Anti-democractic and anti-worker and anti-Charter, oh my!
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Ontario’s Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, introduced Bill 28—the Keeping Students in Class Act (Act)—to Ontario’s legislature, which would legally impose a four-year contract on approximately 55,000 education workers, including librarians, custodians, and early childhood educators. This new legislation circumvents these workers’ Charter-protected right to collective bargaining and to go on strike. In doing so, Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government has cemented its reputation as anti-democratic and anti-worker.
Recall, for instance, that Ford’s PCs introduced Bill 124 in 2019, which put a restraint on pay increases for registered nurses and other provincial public-sector workers to a maximum of one per cent for three years. Critics warned that restricting wages in this manner would not keep up with inflation and might result in skilled workers fleeing to the private sector. As many Ontarians who rely on our public healthcare system will know, we have been left with a system in crisis. The summer of 2022 saw more than 80 emergency room closures in the province due to a critical shortage of nurses.
With this latest anti-worker legislation from Ford’s PCs, the province has targeted another group of beleaguered workers: public educators. But this time, Ford’s PCs have decided that a slap in the face isn’t enough for Ontario’s work force—it’s time for a gut punch.
Namely, the province’s latest legislation has relied on the inclusion of section 33 of the Charter, which gives provincial legislatures the ability to override certain Charter protections. In other words, the Act is declared to operate notwithstanding sections 2, 7 and 15 of the Charter and will apply despite the Human Rights Code. Under the Act, any future action before the Ontario Labour Relations Board is pre-empted and workers could face fines of up to $4,000 per day if they strike.
As a reminder, section 2 of the Charter protects fundamental freedoms such as: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association. Section 7 of the Charter protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Section 15 of the Charter protects the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
“Collective bargaining” is the typical negotiation process between a union and an employer. Collective bargaining and the right to strike are protected by one or a combination of the aforementioned Charter rights. The Ford government has reneged on its legal duty to negotiate, opting instead to forcibly resolve the matter in its favour. Any ability for the unions, such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), to challenge the new legislation has been pre-empted by the province’s inclusion of section 33.
Lecce expressed that section 33’s inclusion in the Act was to “reduce any litigation or challenges downstream that could create disruption.” Based on Lecce’s comments and the actions of his government, it is apparent that Ford’s PCs believes that democratic rights come secondary to pushing forward party priorities. This move should be concerning for any unionized professions in the public sector which may, at some inevitable point, have priorities which conflict with those of the provincial government.
Call on Ford’s government to rescind the unfair legislation. For more ways to help, check out CUPE's website: DontBeABully.ca.