CANADA: The most populous province in Canada’s leader is facing criticism for a “draconian” measure that would fine school support employees C$4,000 per day for going on strike.
This has raised worries that Ontario is undermining core worker rights and creating a dangerous precedent.
This week, Doug Ford’s conservative administration introduced legislation that would impose a contract on education workers unilaterally and impose severe penalties for going on strike.
The action intensifies a contentious disagreement over the remuneration of education personnel, such as custodians, early childhood educators, and educational assistants.
Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, has entered the conflict and has harshly criticized the Ontario government’s move to “suspend people’s rights and freedoms.”
The 55,000 education employees represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees have demanded an 11.3% pay hike, claiming that low-income earners have been struck the hardest by stagnant wage growth and high inflation.
In response, the government has increased wages by 1.5% for those with higher incomes and 2.5% for those with lower incomes.
Bill 28 was accelerated by the government since negotiations had made little headway, and a strike was scheduled for Friday.
If the contentious bill is approved, it would be the first time in the county’s history that the ability of workers to strike and engage in collective bargaining might be legally curtailed (workers would be fined C$4,000 per day and the union C$500,000 for going on strike).
Despite admitting that its legislation violates both the country’s Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the administration maintains that preventing a strike is its top goal.
The Ontario government is using the notwithstanding clause, a rarely used legal tool that allows provincial governments to ignore parts of the charter for a period of five years provided that they can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
A division of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the biggest construction union in Canada, urged the province’s education minister to reinstate the right to collective bargaining earlier this week.
The Ontario Bar Association also disapproved of the action, describing the uncertainty surrounding fundamental rights as “potentially destabilizing”. The association also raised concerns that the short-term gains made by the Ford administration may have a hidden cost.
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