As education workers in Ontario barrel towards open conflict with the Ministry of Education on Friday, the province is threatening to fine workers who illegally go on strike.
The fines could amount to more than $200 million per day. The fine will be up to $4,000 for an individual or $500,000 for CUPE itself.
On Sunday evening, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced he would introduce legislation to block education workers from walking off the job after a five-day notice of a strike was given.
The province confirmed Monday it would use the notwithstanding clause to avoid any court challenge the proposed law might face.
However, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 custodians, clerical staff, librarians, and early childhood educators, said it would proceed with its planned strike action on Friday.
That strike could cost education workers thousands of dollars each under the proposed legislation that Lecce and the Doug Ford government are rushing through.
Bill 28, Keeping Students in Class Act, specifies fines for strike action by CUPE members.
The legislation lays out that any person who violates section six or seven of the proposed bill — which prohibit strike action — and is convicted will face a fine.
The law proposes that every day a person contravenes the law by striking “constitutes a separate offence.”
If all 55,000 workers represented by CUPE strike on Friday and receive the maximum fine of $4,000, it would cost a total of $220 million.
Asked how the legislation would work and if all workers would be fined, Lecce did not offer specifics.
“The legislation sets out those particulars really to deter any violation of the law,” he told reporters.
CUPE said on Monday it would help members who are hit with Ministry of Labour fines as a result of the new legislation.
Ontario NDP education critic, Chandra Pasma, called the legislation a “bullying tactic.”
“The minister is the one holding all the cards here,” she said. “The minister can come to the table at any time over the next four days with a deal that prevents to disruptions to our kids and that’s what I am begging him, please, to do.”
On Sunday, after CUPE notified the Ministry of Education of its plans to strike, the government increased its offer.
The latest offer promises a 2.5 per cent increase to workers earning less than 43,000 per year and a 1.5 for workers earning more per year.
The union requested an 11 per cent increase in wages, citing the high cost of living and historically low pay. CUPE said its wage proposal is an increase of $3.25 per hour annually for the next three years.
“CUPE has now made the decision to strike, putting their own self interest ahead of Ontario’s nearly two million children, who deserve to stay in class
learning,” Lecce said in a statement.