PART 4: Early 1980 to 1998
The 1980s – Decade of Equity
Although the 1960s and 1970s were the years of consciousness-raising, the rise of teacher militancy, and the beginnings of many social justice movements, it was during the 1980s that progress on equity issues was made in policy, legislation, union structure, and collective agreements.
In 1982 Canada got a constitution. Section 15, the main equality rights section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, came into effect on April 17, 1985. The Charter’s enshrinement of women’s rights was the result of intensive work by women’s groups, including FWTAO, which helped organize the 1981 Women’s Constitutional Conference to push for women’s equality. FWTAO later gave startup support to the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), to ensure that women’s rights were upheld.
Trade unions responded to the demand for equality in part by creating designated positions on their executives. The ﬁrst labour organization in Canada to do so was the Ontario Federation of Labour, which in 1983 designated seats speciﬁcally for women on its executive. Other unions soon followed, and designated positions expanded to include visible minorities; Aboriginal Canadians; people living with disabilities; gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons; and youth.
Greater equality in schools
Amendments to the Education Act made education more accessible to students with special needs, giving them more opportunities and eventually removing labels like “trainable retarded” from the education vocabulary. Teacher federations supported the new opportunities but also demanded funding to back up the move toward integration of special needs students. They also made a renewed thrust in negotiating working conditions clauses to ensure that class sizes were appropriate and that teachers had the resources and the time to do their work effectively. At the beginning of the decade, only a handful of elementary agreements contained preparation- time language. By the end of the decade, and following the 1987 strike for preparation time in Metro Toronto, almost every teacher collective agreement had such provisions. ETFO’s Campaign 200 continued that initiative.
The federations fought for just-cause clauses prohibiting boards from ﬁring teachers without just cause, and for protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. Paid pregnancy leave, a revolutionary concept at the time, became a major focus in bargaining.
Equal opportunity for women teachers
Although women elementary teachers succeeded in eliminating many discriminatory practices in the workplace, they soon faced another challenge – barriers to promotion.