November 3, 2015 4:58 pm
Updated: November 6, 2015 5:43 pm

OSSTF support staff refuse to withdraw job action in face of ‘threats’ of wage cuts

WATCH ABOVE: The union representing 15,000 education support workers lashed out against a threat by the education minister to dock pay by 10 per cent if no deal is reached soon. Cindy Pom reports.

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TORONTO — The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says the government should focus on getting back to the bargaining table with support staff, instead of issuing “threats” of cutting their wages if they don’t reach an agreement.

Education Minister Liz Sandals said Monday that the government would provide school boards with consent to give five days notice to OSSTF education workers that their pay could be docked by up to 10 per cent if they do not reach an agreement.

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OSSTF President Paul Elliott said Sandals had displayed an “abdication of responsibility” by giving school boards consent to proceed with wage cut notices, which has caused confusion at the bargaining table.

READ MORE: Ontario elementary teachers, support staff reach tentative deal, end strike action

“We have no intention of withdrawing our job sanctions at this time, we are committed to getting to the bargaining table and getting to a fair deal,” Elliott said, adding that it remains to be seen if wages will be cut.

“Once they have made that decision we will investigate, but I think it needs to be stated here quite clearly that if the council does decide to move down this road of cutting the wages to the lowest-paid employees, we will then escalate actions and hopefully force them to come back to the bargaining table and work out a deal.”

Elliott said that since giving notice to bargain on behalf of education workers in the summer of 2014, the union has been given only 12 days of face-to-face bargaining with the government. He added that the talks hinge on a wide variety of issues, including working conditions and job security.

“We have asked for multiple bargaining dates with the government and school boards, but have been given very few,” he said.

“Frustrated with the lack of willingness to bargain, our members started a limited withdrawal of duties on Oct. 5. Our support staff members have only been involved in this job action for less than a month.”

WATCH: Cutting support staff pay ‘not fair, disrespectful’: OSSTF president

Elliott said OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Canadian Union of Public Employees were called to a meeting on Oct. 23 and informed they may face wage cuts if no agreement was reached.

“I think it would have been a lot wiser to spend some time determining how is it best to get back to the bargaining table and work towards a deal,” said Elliott.

“As opposed to taking that threat and now giving the green light for the School Board Associations to cut wages.”

OSSTF has 60,000 members across Ontario, including more than 15,000 support staff such as educational assistants, early childhood educators, professional student services personnel, student support personnel, office and clerical staff, custodians, maintenance, and technicians.

Elliott said that most of them are women and they are among the lowest-paid workers in Ontario’s publicly funded education system.

READ MORE: GTHA parents told they can’t help clean up messy schools as work-to-rule continues

“It is beyond reasoning that a government would authorize this unprecedented action against these hard working support staff members instead of returning to the bargaining table,” he said.

“It is not fair and it is disrespectful. OSSTF remains committed to a negotiated agreement. The focus should have been on returning to the bargaining table and addressing issues and achieving a fair settlement.”

A tentative deal was reached Monday between the Ontario government and unions for both elementary school teachers and support staff.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said in a release late Monday that it was advising its members to suspend strike action immediately in light of the new agreement.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 education workers and support staff in schools across the province, said it had also reached a deal in central talks Monday that ended their work-to-rule campaign.

READ MORE: OSSTF reaches tentative agreement with province

“Job action is negatively impacting our students, schools have become increasingly dirty and we’re increasingly concerned about the health, safety and well-being of our students. This cannot go on,” Sandals said Monday.

“So while we have reached two agreements today, unfortunately OSSTF education workers have not reached agreement with the four trustee associations. They are also unwilling to stop their job action.”

Elliott said that in just four days of a “lengthy and expensive” negotiating process, the OSSTF had racked up more than $50,000 in hotel bills and other expenses while negotiating in downtown Toronto.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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