The education workers strike begins in Canada, Govt fails to provide facilities to education workers and threaten to impose fines of about $220 Million.
A Education workers strike prohibition that was backed by the exceptional deployment of special powers under the country’s constitution was disobeyed by approximately 55,000 education workers in Canada’s Ontario province on Friday, risking hefty fines.
The Ontario government hastily passed legislation to prevent a strike and try to keep the province’s kids in class after talks with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) broke down this week.
The back-to-work legislation was fairly typical, but for the contentious use of the constitution’s notwithstanding provision to lock the workers into a four-year contract and preclude legal challenges, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “wrong.”
The uniquely Canadian override authority gives provincial governments the ability to inadvertently deny certain civil rights guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution for up to five years. Canada is divided about how to use authority.
As a result of CUPE’s strike, which closed hundreds of schools across Ontario, the law was criticised by the union as an attack on all employees’ rights to collective bargaining.
The union also issued a warning that other unions might join in and that the school support staff would not be returning to work any time soon.
Ottawa educational assistant Gabriel Dolo-Cooper deemed the Ontario government’s measures to be “unfair.”
He told AFP, “I believe the pandemic was harsh on everyone. But in order to get by, my coworkers and I have to work two or three jobs.
Raising pay by 1.5 to 2.5 per cent is what the contract mandates, which is much less than what the union sought to do in order to keep up with rising living expenses.
Dolo-Cooper described the hundreds of pickets that appeared all around Ontario as “a very crucial fight.” We need to be heard, therefore we must.
Mark Hancock, the president of CUPE, charged that the Ontario government was “trampling on workers’ rights.”
In a statement, he noted that this issue “is about the rights of all working people across the country, not only education workers.”
Daily fines of $220 million
Up to Can$4,000 in daily fines could be levied on the striking workers, while Can$500,000 in fines could be levied against the union. A staggering Can$220.5 million (US$163.6 million) is spent each day in total.
Stephen Lecce, the minister of education for Ontario, defended the use of the override power in an unsuccessful attempt to avert the labour dispute, claiming that students had already endured enough interruptions from the pandemic over the previous two years.
Nothing is more important than getting all students back in the classroom at this time, and he pledged to use every tool at his disposal to do this.
He had already stated, when pressed, that “This is not a normal time in society,” and suggested using extraordinary powers to accomplish those aims.
Before conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford assumed office, the notwithstanding clause had never been applied in the province. Three times since 2018, he has now threatened to use it or used it, including once before to limit third-party election advertising and shrink the size of Toronto’s municipal council.
Recently, Quebec came under fire for using it to forbid public employees from wearing religious symbols like crosses or hijabs. The province has previously used it to defend the French language.
Workers’ rights in Canada were “being decimated before our very eyes,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in the Ontario case.
In Ottawa, Trudeau and a number of his ministers issued a warning against the excessive use of the notwithstanding clause, calling Ontario’s most recent application of it “an affront to democracy.”
Justice Minister David Lametti promised a review of its use and stated that the section is meant to “safeguard parliamentary supremacy, but as the last word.”
Canadians should be extremely concerned about the rising frequency of provincial governments utilising the notwithstanding clause to preventively suspend their fundamental rights and freedoms, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said at a press conference after voicing his concerns to Ford.