Impending legislation that would strip Ontario’s teachers of their right to strike and allow the government to change existing contracts without negotiating with unions was the talk of a Labour Day rally held Monday afternoon outside the Brantford and District Labour Centre on Clarence Street.
“This anti-union legislation put forward by the McGuinty government is a threat to every working person in the province,” said Brian Hazlewood, president of the teachers bargaining unit within the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 23.
The legislation, which could pass early this week with Conservative support, removes teachers’ right to strike for two years and prevents them from appealing the bill to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
“This Putting Students First Act puts democracy last,” said Donna Howey, president of the Grand Erie Elementary Teachers’ Federation. “It’s dangerous.”
Howey said she is baffled that the government clamped down on the potential for labour disruptions when teachers unions publicly insisted that a strike was not in the cards.
“This legislation isn’t about students – it’s about stripping workers’ rights,” Howey said, vowing teachers unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees would challenge the government’s “unprecedented” attack on labour at the Supreme Court.
“Even Stephen Harper didn’t try to deny the right to an arbitrated settlement” during the Air Canada strike, Howey said.
Hazlewood accused the province of using the threat of a teachers strike to instil fear in the electorate as part of a “cynical” attempt to win an upcoming by-election in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“(Unions) will once again rise to the occasion,” to counter such tactics, Hazlewood said.
Members of the Steelworkers Union and other labour groups joined CUPE and the teachers on a parade through downtown Brantford before returning to the labour centre parking lot for a barbecue lunch and kids activities.