In 2012, the McGuinty government passed Bill 115 legislating collective agreements for ETFO and other education unions. The bill identified the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association’s as the “template” for contracts. The MOU included a salary freeze, three unpaid PA days (1.5% of salary), 50% payment of the entitlement for movement on the salary grid, a reduction of annual sick days from 20 to 10, and the loss of all banked sick days.
The bill was an unprecedented intrusion into the established collective bargaining process and employee rights. In response, five unions — ETFO, CUPE, OSSTF, OPSEU and Unifor challenged Bill 115 in court, arguing that the legislation violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In April of 2016, the Superior Court of Justice held that Bill 115 substantially interfered with collective bargaining. In his decision, Justice Lederer ruled that Bill 115 infringed on union members’ rights to meaningful collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also determined that the process the government engaged in was “fundamentally flawed.”
It has been an incredibly long process, almost ten years in the making, but in early February, ETFO received a decision on remedy. Looking at the overall remedy amounts, ETFO was awarded the highest sum of remedy, $103 million, to be distributed to all eligible ETFO members who were employed by an English public-school board in Ontario in 2012-2013 and/or 2013-2014. Other unions received smaller sums and determined their own distribution methods. OPSEU received $2.75 million, CUPE received $56.7 million and OSSTF’s settlement was $56.7 million.
Remedy is an award for damages and not considered income for pension purposes, nor should there be any deductions like taxes, CPP, or EI payments. A member who worked full-time from 2012- 2014 should be entitled to $1,606. This includes members on pregnancy leave, WSIB or LTD. The amount is prorated for those who worked less. ETFO was the only union to secure $200 for qualifying occasional teachers who worked 150 days over the two years with at least 50 days worked in each year.
It will take some time for funds to be distributed to all those eligible, the government will do this through the school boards. The most important next step is to stay informed. ETFO regularly updates the “Frequently Asked Questions” document located on the Bill 115 Remedy page. Visit etfo.ca to receive timely advice on this issue.
Spring brings the government budget for the next school year, and we already know from the fall that the Ford government cut $467 million from the education budget this year. The Financial Accountability Office (FAO) has also identified a long-term funding gap between the government’s planned spending and the needs of the public education system over the next ten years. The cumulative Ministry of Education spending gap from 2021- 22 to 2029-30 between the FAO’s forecast and the province’s 2021 budget spending plan is $12.3 billion. The Grants for Student Needs were released before the budget this year and fail to address this ever-increasing funding gap. We all know that means further cuts to education programs and less support for students, unless the province changes course.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated concerns about large class sizes, the physical condition of schools and the government’s failure to provide appropriate funding to meet the needs of all students, particularly students with special education needs and those from marginalized communities. These concerns were evident before the pandemic due to devastating cuts to public education. A just recovery for all families in Ontario means making sure students and educators get the support they deserve.
– Sharon O’Halloran