Teacher, Education Worker Canadian Negotiations Survey
The main story in education these days is not one big story, in one major province, but a series of negotiations stories across Canada, many of which have implications for educators across Canada. Activists may be intimate with their own province but less aware of the situation of comrades across the country. Not all provinces are included since not all are in a round of negotiations.
In probably the most important development in years, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that Ontario’s Bill 124 is unconstitutional. This clearly has far-reaching, national implications. For non Ontario activists, Bill 124 was a wage control bill passed by the Doug Ford PC government in 2017 which, in short, set a 1% ceiling on the wages of teachers and support staff, nurses and health workers and all provincial public employees. Of course, the PC friendly police union, and by obvious extension the firefighters were only limited to 2% increases. This was just loaded with political and gender bias. After the OCA decision, Ford declined to take this to the Supremes and folded his hand. This decision led to a negotiated back pay remedy of 2.75%, plus an extra 0.75% for 2 years which, on top of recently negotiated increases of 7%, will give teachers a 10% bump over the next 4 years.
This court decision, when seen against the court decision against former Liberal Dalton McGuinty and Bill 115, which imposed contracts on teachers, truly boxes governments into a position where their only remaining option is tough but fair, free collective bargaining with public sector unions.
McGuinty was also reversed by the Supremes and had to pay a remedy. Ford even tried the notwithstanding clause against education workers and brought down ‘shock and awe’ from the entire Ontario labour movement when even the conservative construction unions put Ford on blast, telling him this would lead directly to a General Strike closing down the province. Once again Ford made an ignominious climb down.
Teachers, indeed all public employees, need to realize the significance of these decisions. Every escape route from free collective bargaining it seems, has effectively been closed off, not just for Ontario but for Canada.
Saskatchewan teachers are now on a series of one day strikes against the Saskatchewan Party (conservative) with public support behind the teachers. An important background piece is that, for the first time in 20 years, the NDP has pulled ahead of the SKP in recent polling 49-47% setting up a potential cliffhanger election this fall. SK pundits believe the NDP would need a slightly larger lead in mid-sized cities to actually win outright.
Imagine NDP governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba simultaneously with a strong NDP as the only serious alternative in Alberta. The last time this happened the Fraser Institute was created in 1974, as corporate Canada panicked, and wanted an ideological push back.
STF is being incredibly responsible here, maybe too responsible, and may have to tune it up to two days a week on the bricks, which challenges the SKP to close the schools and bring down the wrath of SK parents on their heads.
STF wages have dropped precipitously to 8th place in remuneration over the SKP period. To complicate this, teachers are angry, to say the least, regarding class size and composition while the SKP refuses to negotiate them. SKP needs to review the BCTF Supreme Court decision on this.
Quebec has just come off one of its famous common front, syndicalist, public sector General Strikes involving teachers and education workers as key players. This was a Battle Royale with both the CAQ government and the unions ‘all in’ determined to win.
Teachers did their picket and demo duty solidarity but also picked up work in the gig economy to top up strike pay. The backdrop of the situation has 8000 teachers quitting annually due to miserable pay and class conditions. The Federation Autonomous Enseignants (FAE) was the main union representing 66 000 public school teachers who were joined by 420 000 public employees with nurses playing a key role.
While the strikes ran through November and December 2023, the popularity of the governing CAQ nationalist conservative government plummeted to 31% and they are now running behind the Parti Quebecois. QC along with BC are the most unionized Canadian provinces. The popularity of governments during these struggles plays a large part in determining the outcome.
The public support for the strikes ran about 47% with 27% opposed. Quebecois knew the teachers starting salary of $44 000 was the 2nd lowest in the country. The government initially offered 12.5% over 5 years but was eventually forced to cough up 17.4% over 4 years. With $4-8000 bonuses for those over certain class sizes or with too many challenging students in their classes. All in, a significant victory for Quebec teachers. The strikes ended January 3, 2024.
BC teacher wages have shot up, under the NDP, with a backdrop of a court win behind them, backing up their position that the BCTF was illegally restrained from free collective bargaining by the previous Liberal (now BC United) government. For 15 years, BCTF was illegally restricted from negotiating class size and composition, according to the Supreme Court. BCTF went from second last amongst the provinces, into the top 3 earners, with Ontario and Alberta. A BC teacher at the top of the grid will now make $106,217.
There is a provincial election this fall. The BCNDP is in great shape not all due to their own record, but also due to the total failure of the Liberal rebrand to BCU and the rev
ival of the BC Conservatives, fueled by antivax, anti LGBTQ+, conspiracy theories and the Poilievre influence. This has resulted in an NDP in the 40+% area with 20ish% each for BCU and BCCP with the Greens accounting for most of the rest, 15-17%. If that holds, the NDP will run off with the fall election.