By Kristin Rushowy and Robert Benzie
Teachers who walk off the job in planned illegal strikes face fines of up to $2,000 each, under Ontario law.
Premier Dalton McGuinty urged teachers to rethink the job action, promising the government will go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Thursday to stop it.
“On behalf of parents and students alike, it is our full expectation that teachers will be in school on Friday and every day in keeping with their employment obligations,” he warned.
“Let's agree to have this matter settled in court, not in our schools,” said McGuinty, in reference to the union challenge of Bill 115.
Earlier in the day, Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said that as far as fines go, the union will deal with them, if “we get to that point, if that is in fact what happens.”
He said 92 per cent of teachers who voted in December approved a one-day protest Friday, so that's why the union called it, and that such action is allowed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We're not prepared to stand on the sidelines and let (the government's actions) go unnoticed or go unchallenged,” he said in an interview before McGuinty's announcement, referring to the union's battle with the Liberals over Bill 115 and the collective agreements the government imposed on teachers.
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Ontario high school teachers announced late Wednesday they too will walk off the job for a day on Jan. 16, five days after the elementary teachers. The move will close schools for more than 400,000 students in the province's public English-language high schools.
In response, the education minister said she will ask the labour relations board to review the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation's planned walkout as well.
Under Bill 115, the province has the power to go to the board and seek cease-and-desist applications.
If the unions defy any ruling by the board, the government could then go to the Ontario Superior Court, arguing the unions are in contempt of court.
Disobeying the order could result in fines of up to $25,000 for the unions and as much as $2,000 for individual teachers under the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
McGuinty pointedly did not want to discuss punitive measures, but behind the scenes sources say the government is ready to use them.
“I want to be as clear as I can. With contracts now in place, teachers are no longer in a legal strike position,” he told reporters at a hastily called late afternoon Queen's Park news conference Wednesday.
“Strikes before the holidays were disappointing and they were a real inconvenience to parents, but they were legal,” the premier said of rotating one-day walkouts elementary teachers held in December.
“A strike on Friday would be an illegal strike, and I know teachers are law-abiding. I know they don't want to break the law, and I am urging them not to.”
Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod blasted the Liberals for being “so vague” and leaving parents swirling in uncertainty about whether teachers would be in classrooms Friday.
The NDP, however, said it believed Friday’s job action is legal. Education critic Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) blamed the government for creating “chaos in schools.”
Earlier Wednesday, Hammond announced 76,000 teachers would walk off the job Friday to protest the province imposing contracts on his members. The move would affect more than 900,000 students. Many families then received notices from their school boards that classes Friday were cancelled.
- With files from Rob Ferguson and Carys Mills. Article courtesy of Torstar News Network.