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Let's Call Ontario Teachers' Action The Strike It Actually Is

10/31/2015 10:27 EDT | Updated 10/31/2016 05:12 EDT
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Teacher pointing to raised hands in classroom

Elementary teachers in Ontario have now escalated what they are calling "work-to-rule" job action by withdrawing from extracurricular activities for students.

Parents, students and now even the Premier are getting frustrated with the hold-out union. The Premier has stated that if an agreement is not reached with Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) by November 1st, she may approve docking teachers' pay.

Some parents may be wondering how pay can be docked when teachers are on so-called "work-to-rule," rather than striking.

By definition, work-to-rule is supposed to mean that employees are complying with their contracts by doing no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract. While ETFO threatened one day rotating strikes, they never followed through.

The current work-to-rule action includes teachers refusing to prepare report card comments, refusing to conduct parent-teacher interviews in relation to progress reports, wearing union buttons and caps on so-called "Wynne Wednesdays," refusing to fill in for absent teachers, and in some regions, even leaving school doors unlocked.

ETFO has also escalated job action by withdrawing from all voluntary extracurricular activities, which started on October 28. This means all coaches and supervisors of clubs will stop activities for children, even if a game or a meeting was previously scheduled.

However, ETFO's so-called work-to-rule campaign is in fact a strike, and it has been for quite a while. Work-to-rule is defined as strike action in s.35(2) of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act.

But further, teachers are failing to perform their duties. Teachers are obligated to administer the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized test, which was cancelled last spring. The EQAO test is a job duty for ETFO teachers, and is set out in regulation 298(20)(j) of the Education Act, which states that teachers shall "co-operate and assist in the administration of tests under the Education Quality and Accountability Office Act, 1996."

ETFO's decision to cancel the EQAO test deprives parents of objective information about their child's progress. This is information that is especially valuable given that teachers are not preparing report card comments, completing package progress reports or conducting parent-teacher interviews.

By the way, those are also defined job duties for ETFO teachers. Regulation 298(20)(i) requires teachers to "ensure that report cards are fully and properly completed and processed," and section (k) requires teachers to "participate in regular meetings with pupils' parents or guardians."

ETFO can make all the claims they want that they are merely working to rule and not withdrawing services, but the truth is set out in the regulations. Defined job duties for teachers may be hard to find, but they're there.

The simple fact is that ETFO is striking and its members are not doing their job.

And because there is currently no collective agreement in place with ETFO, the boards have the power to alter the terms of work, including cutting wages, if the Premier grants permission, and if five days notice is given.

The Premier has stated that she may grant this permission if an agreement is not reached by November 1st.

And the boards would be within their rights to cut wages given the withdrawal of services. In a similar situation in British Columbia, school boards docked teachers 10 per cent of their pay during rotating strikes. The 10 per cent wage cut was significantly less than the percentage of reduced-time worked, as calculated by the union itself. The cut was nevertheless challenged by the union at the Labour Relations Board, and the Board sided with the school boards and upheld the wage cut.

So let's stop calling ETFO's actions "work-to-rule." It's a strike. Teachers aren't doing their jobs, and it's time to start docking pay.

Correction: A previous version of this blog stated that teachers are refusing to conduct parent/guardian interviews, when in fact ETFO has directed its teachers to not conduct interviews "that are related to progress reports unless the teacher identifies a concern about a student's progress."

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