Ontario Teacher Wage Freeze: Dalton McGuinty Hits YouTube, Asks Educators To 'Do Their Part'

First Posted: 03/ 2/2012 6:03 am Updated: 03/ 2/2012 1:56 pm

TORONTO - Premier Dalton McGuinty's YouTube plea to Ontario's teachers to "do their part" to help slow down spending will only turn up the temperature in an already acrimonious labour dispute, opposition parties said Friday.

In a video posted early Friday morning, McGuinty thanked teachers for their years of work before asking them to accept a "real two-year wage freeze" and changes to their sick leave plan.

"While education funding will still grow, we're going to have to focus on things that allow our children to achieve the best possible results," the premier said.

"Because salaries account for most of that education funding, we're going to be asking all those working in education to do their part to help us slow down spending."

The video is another attempt by the Liberals to negotiate through the media, which will hurt the province and students in the end, the opposition parties said.

"I think that the proper thing for a leader to do in these circumstances is to negotiate at the negotiating table," said New Democrat Peter Tabuns.

"Having a premier who goes into his office, closes the blinds and makes YouTube videos is not showing leadership."

The Progressive Conservatives, who want the province to force a wage freeze on more than a million workers in the broader public sector, say they doubt the Liberals will actually freeze teachers' pay.

The teachers' unions were among the groups that banded together under the umbrella Working Families Coalition and spent millions of dollars to ensure McGuinty was re-elected last fall, said Conservative Peter Shurman.

"It must be rather hard for McGuinty to put out a YouTube video like that for an audience that has participated in funding an effort to the tune of about $9 million during the election campaign aimed at defeating us," he said.

Ontario teachers currently start at $41,766 to $44,292, and can make up to $92,813 in elementary schools and $94,942 in secondary schools, depending on years of service and education.

The government wants to freeze the grid so no one gets a raise because of seniority or improved credentials.

The premier is also asking teachers for an end to a "generous sick leave plan" which currently allows most teachers in Ontario to bank up to 200 days over their career, leading to a lump sum payment averaging $46,000 when they retire.

The governing Liberals want to limit teachers to six sick days a year and eliminate their ability to accumulate them and be paid out, although sick days that have already been banked will be protected.

Education Minister Laurel Broten has said teachers' sick days currently amount to a $1.7-billion liability and can't be sustained by a government facing a $16-billion deficit.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has called the details of the government's position "offensive" and walked out of contract talks on Wednesday.

McGuinty's video urges teachers to work with the government to safeguard the education of Ontario's youth as the province weathers a tough global economy.

"Getting there won't be easy. It's going to take an unwavering commitment and we need to make the right choices for our students," he said.

"If we work together, we can keep advancing student achievement so that we preserve our greatest advantage as a province, that's our highly skilled, highly educated workforce."

Contracts for teachers and school support staff expire Aug. 31, and the government is seeking only a two-year deal after going for four-year agreements in the last two sets of negotiations.

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  • 5 Signs Canada's Workers Are In For A Rough 2012

    Photo: CP/Andrew Vaughan

  • Good Jobs Few And Far Between

    When it comes to evaluating Canadian job growth, the employment numbers are just part of what worries Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets. "It's not only the quantity, but also the quality of employment that's falling in Canada," says Tal. "A lot of the jobs that are being created are low-quality, especially part-time jobs and low-paying jobs." Though -- unlike the U.S. -- Canada has regained all the jobs lost in the recession, he says that an absence of good-paying jobs is the "main reason" why wages have stagnated. Adjusted for inflation, personal after-tax income is now rising at the slowest rate since 1995. Meanwhile, the skills mismatch in many jurisdictions has left employers short on skilled labour despite still-high unemployment levels in other regions. "If you lose a job, you don't have the skill set to go an find a job elsewhere that companies want and need," says Tal. (Alamy photo)

  • Globalization

    When Caterpillar decided to stop assembling locomotives in its Electro-Motive facility in London, Ont., it was a poignant reminder of how globalization is giving deep-pocketed, transnational corporations the ultimate trump card in bargaining with workers: a cheaper alternative. According to Mike Moffatt, a labour expert at the University of Western Ontario's Ivey School of Business, because of automation and an increase in imports from lower wage jurisdictions like China and Mexico, Canadian workers are competing for fewer manufacturing jobs. "That's given firms real power to negotiate down wages," says Moffatt, who points to the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/06/riotintoalcan-alma-idUSL2E8D699U20120206" target="_hplink">Rio Tinto lockout in Quebec</a> as another illustration of the might afforded to companies with global reach. Since locking out workers at its aluminum smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean on December 31, the Anglo-Australian mining giant has used non-union workers to operate the facility at one-third capacity. With no plans to return to the bargaining table, the company recently announced it is restarting two suspended lines, and is expecting to return to full capacity in May. As Tal maintains, "In this environment, the bargaining power of labour is diminishing."

  • Austerity Agenda

    Just as the power has shifted toward private-sector employers, Michael Lynk, a labour law expert at the University of Western Ontario, says there is a sense that governments are becoming emboldened amid the post-recession climate of austerity that has swept from Toronto's City Hall to Parliament Hill. "There's increasingly an attitude of take-it-or-or leave-it by [private sector] employers, but we may begin to see that with public sector bargaining as well, where they basically say, 'You have to meet our bargaining objectives this round, and we're going to be prepared to endure a short or lengthy lockout to prove our point," he says. Though global economic instability recently prompted federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to pull back on his earlier commitment to deep cost-cutting in the upcoming budget, government departments are expecting spending to be slashed by between five and 10 per cent, a goal that will be met at least in part at the expense of public service jobs and benefits. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently estimated that the <a href="http://www.behindthenumbers.ca/2012/02/02/federal-cuts-could-push-unemployment-to-8/" target="_hplink">federal government's budget cuts could push unemployment up half a percentage point, to 8 per cent</a>. (CP photo)

  • Pension Problems

    From <a href="http://dalgazette.com/featured/faculty-strike-rumours-explained/" target="_hplink">Dalhousie University</a> to <a href="http://www.thestar.com/article/1120516--labour-strife-ahead-in-air-canada-pilot-talks" target="_hplink">Air Canada</a>, employers no longer able -- or willing -- to fund costly pension plans are mounting attempts to roll back retirement benefits, stoking labour unrest and a growing sense of financial insecurity among workers. As Dalhouse University labour economist Lars Osberg explains, the financial crisis took a huge bite out of the value of corporate pension portfolios and the interest rate required to generate the stream of returns to make these programs sustainable. All of which explains why experts anticipate a deepening of the trend away from inflation-protected, gold-plated defined-benefit pension plans, shifting responsibility for retirement savings from employers to workers.

  • Decline Of Unions

    The power in numbers that enabled Big Labour to negotiate better wages and benefits in the aftermath of the Second World War is a distant memory today, as the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/12/canada-income-inequality-decline-unions-middle-class-jobs_n_1139136.html" target="_hplink">erosion of unions continues to whittle away the strength of collective bargaining</a>. This is particularly true in the private sector, where unionization sits at 16 per cent of employees, less than a quarter of public sector unionization. "I think you will see more disputes with unions having to compromise more than in the past," says Tal. "I really don't see that they have the upper hand at this point." Given the yawning gap between private and public sector unionization, Lynk warns that pressure on public sector unions could mount as it has in the U.S. in recent months. "The argument they've been floating is, 'Why should public sector workers have jobs for life, good pensions, and decent wages? They're eating up your taxes,'" he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're not [starting] to see the beginnings of that kind of argument here in Canada."

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Filed by Daniel Tencer  |