55,000 education workers in Ontario are in the midst of bargaining for better working conditions and wages. On Sunday, the government announced their intentions to legislate away these workers’ right to strike and unilaterally impose a collective agreement on them. This is being done despite planned mediation dates on November 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
Education workers – custodians, education assistants, early childhood educators, admin staff, IT staff – keep public schools running. Our public schools cannot operate without them. They are also the lowest paid workers in their sector. On average, education workers in Ontario make $39,000 a year. Over 90% of education workers say they face financial hardship and over 51% have to work a second job. Every year nearly two thirds of education workers are laid off.
Education workers are faced with struggles that connect them to the larger decent work movement: many have to work in low-wage precarious jobs and access employment insurance just to make ends meet. And now their right to strike is under threat again.
Every Ontarian deserves the means to live in dignity. For the last ten years, education workers have seen their pay and working conditions curbed by government legislation.
Bill 115, passed by the Liberal government in 2012, imposed 0% wage increases and took away workers’ right to strike. In 2019 the Conservative government passed Bill 124 which imposed a 1% wage cap over three years. Over the last 10 years, government legislation has resulted in a 11% real wage cut for education workers.
Now with inflation hovering around 7%, the government wants to force a contract onto workers that would see a majority of them only get a 1.5% increase . For workers making $43,000 this translates to 17 cents an hour. This is, in effect, another substantial wage cut for the lowest paid workers in the sector. This will result in more workers having to take on second jobs or leaving the sector altogether. The government also is looking to impose rollbacks in job security and sick leave, a deal that would see hard-fought gains in paid sick leave for education workers weakened. Inadequate paid leave is a public health concern that jeopardizes our communities.
This attack on education workers’ pay and rights is also an attack on women workers. Over 70% of education workers are women. The government’s dismal proposal and backwards approach to bargaining will further entrench gender inequality in the labour market.
Education workers are fighting for decent work. The way they’re being treated now is a message to everyone in Ontario who is in need of decent work and adequate income supports. Their fight is our fight.
To show support for education workers, check out the Justice for Workers campaign’s tips and resources, and join the phone zap for education workers on Wednesday, November 2nd at 7pm, hosted by the Justice for Workers campaign.