Sometimes I can be taken by surprise. Just when you think there is nothing new under the sun, there is. Or new to me anyway. Ontario’s public school teachers have proven it actually is possible to have your cake and eat it too.
They are currently holding a job action, have been for months, withdrawing services to pressure the government during contract negotiations. This is not a traditional strike. They still show up for work, but are refusing to do anything not considered to be part of their jobs.
It came as a shock to parents last June to discover that filling out report cards is not part of a teacher’s job. They evaluate their students, but apparently are not expected to share those evaluations. Well, okay, to be fair, they can tell the principal, but they can’t enter the marks on report cards. That isn’t in their job descriptions. Maybe I am naïve – I would have thought that was a big part of what a teacher is supposed to do in a system that has different levels in which students progress from one grade to another.
The teachers’ attitude defies common sense. I won’t get into all the little things they no longer do as part of this service withdrawal. The end result though is that teachers are doing less than they used to, for the same pay, at a time when many people find their workload increased but their income hasn’t. Ontario’s teachers have seen their salaries rise by almost 40% in the past decade, when most people have to settle for one percent a year, if they get that.
The government has been bending over backwards in its dealings with the teachers, to the point where the tail is wagging the dog. The teachers are quite happily withdrawing services while continuing to receive a pay cheque.
Recently the news media revealed that, for the past decade, the Ontario government has been paying the negotiation costs of the teachers’ unions. Yes, you read that correctly. The employer is picking up the bargaining costs of the employee, millions of dollars. The employer in this case is the taxpayer, not that any taxpayer seems to have a say in this ludicrous situation.
I have walked a picket line in the past, so I am somewhat familiar with how labour negotiations work. From a union perspective this seems like a dream situation. Not only are the employees withdrawing services without any financial penalty, but the employer is sponsoring this behavior. In such a situation there is no incentive whatsoever for the union to make any concessions; there is no cost to them if the bargaining goes on forever.
The provincial government has finally said that it will start docking teachers’ pay if they continue to withdraw services (such as recently when teachers were paid for a professional development day but because they were staging a job action refused to attend any workshops). I will believe that when I see it.
I have the greatest respect for teachers – I have a couple in my immediate family. But I think in this case they are being gutless and the government is being spineless. Neither side has the courage of their convictions. Filling out a report card is part of being a teacher. If I don’t do my job my employer will find someone who will. Maybe the teachers should think about that. But they don’t need to – the provincial government has already shown it is an invertebrate.