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Thousands of education workers in Canada’s Ontario go on strike

Some 55,000 education workers have walked off the job in Canada’s most populous province after the Ontario government passed a law this week imposing contracts on them and banning strikes.

The right-wing government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford passed Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, on Thursday afternoon while invoking a contentious clause in Canada’s constitution to preempt the judicial challenges.

The so-called “notwithstanding clause” allows provinces to suspend certain parts of the constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for a period of five years.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which has 55,000 custodians, maintenance workers and librarians, secretaries and other educational support staff affected by Bill 28, called the legislation an attack on all rights. bargaining power of the workers and organized a strike anyway. .

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“The Ford government’s trampling on workers’ rights in Ontario should be a wake-up call,” he said.

Their protest has forced the closure of hundreds of schools across Ontario, and the union also warned that school support workers would not be returning to work any time soon.

“CUPE’s 55,000 Ontario Council of School Boards Unions (OSBCU) members… who work in publicly funded schools across Ontario are the backbone of Ontario’s public education system,” CUPE said in a statement. earlier this week.

“They are also the lowest paid education workers, earning, on average, only [$28,900] $39,000 [Canadian] a year that has left many on the brink of poverty.”

Holding banners and chanting slogans, striking workers held rallies and pickets Friday outside Ontario government offices, as well as the provincial legislature in Toronto, known as Queen’s Park.

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Gabriel Dolo-Cooper, an educational assistant in Ottawa, said the government’s actions were “not fair.” “I understand that the pandemic was hard on everyone,” he told the AFP news agency. “But my colleagues and I have two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

“This is a very important fight,” added Dolo-Cooper. “We must make our voices heard.”

But the Ford government has defended the legislation, with Education Minister Stephen Lecce telling reporters this week that the workers’ demands were too high.

Lecce said in a statement Friday that Ontario had filed a complaint with the Ontario Labor Relations Board about CUPE’s “illegal strike action.” “Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to do that,” he said.

The four-year contract imposed on the workers includes raises of 1.5 to 2.5 percent, well below what the union demanded to cover rising costs of living. Bill 28 also includes a $2,968 ($4,000 Canadian) daily fine for striking workers, which the union has said it will fight or pay, if necessary.

The Ontario Federation of Labor (OFL), an umbrella group representing dozens of unions in the province, accused the Ford government of “attempting to disrupt the bargaining process and strip workers of a fundamental freedom.”

“Doug Ford and his administration are once again telling workers across the province that their rights don’t matter,” OFL President Patty Coates said in a statement.

This is only the second time the exception clause has been used in Ontario history, and both times Ford was the one to exercise it.

The nearby province of Quebec also used the exception clause in 2019 to pass a controversial “religious symbols” law. Bill 21 prohibits some public sector workers in positions of authority (teachers, prosecutors, and others) from wearing religious symbols at work, such as hijabs.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, described the passage of Bill 28 in Ontario this week as “appalling.”

“An important piece of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being torn apart before our very eyes,” Mendelsohn Aviv said in a statement Thursday.

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“It is the rights of workers in Ontario that have been attacked today through House Bill 28; it is the rights of some practicing Muslims, Jews and Sikhs in Quebec that continue to be attacked through Bill 21; and make no mistake, this will continue unless we all fight tooth and nail,” he said.

“Everyone’s rights are at stake when the notwithstanding clause is used.”

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