It’s back to school for kids across Ontario but the school year could be interrupted by labour disputes.
Over the Labour Day long weekend, contracts expired for the five major unions representing the province’s teachers and education workers.
Talks between the unions and the school boards are continuing.
However, there’s not a lot of optimism at this point that the school year will continue without some sort of strike or lockout action.
“Students are going back to class today and they’re returning to schools that are very different than the ones they last left in June,” Laura Walton, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)’s school board council, said at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.
“Because of (the) Ford government’s cuts to education it’s likely that their schools have lost education workers.”
None of the unions are currently in a legal strike position.
The 55,000 education workers represented by CUPE warned in August that they were preparing to take job action this month.
Walton said she expects her members to vote strongly in favour.
“I expect that we’ll have a good strike turnout with a strong strike mandate,” she said.
Walton noted that it’s also possible the union may engage in a work-to-rule campaign.
“Work to rule is something that, of course, we used effectively the last time, so it’s something that we are defiantly considering again.”
CUPE said the Ford government’s cuts to teaching positions and increases to classroom sizes have made the environment very difficult for talks toward a new contract.
As well, custodial staff said that because of jobs cuts, schools are dirtier than they were last year — saying things like washing gym floors, sanitizing around bathroom mirrors and washing the walls behind hand driers and soap dispensers will no longer be a daily duty.
In a statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that parents deserve predictability and he remains focused on delivering a deal that protects children’s future and ultimately keeps them in the classroom — echoing a statement he made over the summer.
“That is the moral obligation all parties have and I know in the hearts of many teachers, as all parents, is they want the same,” he said.
Teachers and support staff will vote on job action in two weeks.