Don’t make students the pawns in dispute
This never happens in June. A new school year is fast approaching, and right along with it are rumblings of a potential labour dispute between the Ontario government and the province’s teachers.
Talks between the government, teachers’ unions and school boards are ongoing, but the Liberals have thrown the first punch, its fist full of rhetoric: if the teachers don’t accept a two-year wage freeze, the Liberal government will simply force them to do it via new legislation.
The government claims it would only take such a step to prevent a delay to the start of the school year. The teachers are saying the dispute is nowhere near that point, and the government is just posturing, trying to talk tough as two byelections loom.
That start of the new academic year is about a month away. The school year ends in the spring.
So why is this coming up now?
The answer is, of course, simple. The government — and they are not the only ones to do this — is using students, elementary and secondary students, as pawns.
It is, of course, a smart tactic. The government can shift blame onto the “unreasonable” teachers.
They’re only forcing the legislation because otherwise, those darn teachers would hold out for wage increases, and thereby the education of thousands and thousands of students would suffer.
The same tactic has been used by unions, too. Look at the recent faculty and staff strikes at Confederation College and Lakehead University — did those take place during the warm summer months?
Of course not. They happened in the middle of the school year, when as many people as possible were inconvenienced.
The issue, though, is this is education. These are students who are suffering. What does the four-year-old who’s entering junior kindergarten for the first time have to do with a labour dispute involving her teacher, the teacher’s union and Queen’s Park?
Now, it is certainly understandable that both sides in a simmering labour dispute want to get their message to the public that they’re being reasonable and unfairly criticized. That involves disrupting services in some cases. If postal workers, for example, are on strike, there’s obviously no mail delivery.
And this is not a comment on strike actions themselves. They can certainly be an inevitable outcome. Not everything is fair, and people do need to stand up for their labour rights.
But where is the line drawn? In this case, why should there be a threat that classes can be cancelled? Why should students be late because they need to wait to pass an information picket at the entrance to campus?
Aggravating the matter is that all sides involved in every education-sector labour dispute claim they care, that they’re trying to look out for those same students.
Education is vital. Students should be given every opportunity to obtain it. They should not held as pawns in a political game. Both sides in this issue need to remember that and make very effort to ensure a new deal is in place before the bell rings for the first day of classes in September.