The ongoing labour dispute between the Ford government and Ontario’s teachers is now in its second month with no end in sight.
At the heart of the dispute, as it is in any labour dispute, is money. Sure the teachers want you to believe that it's about maintaining quality education in Ontario, but that's secondary to the money, and I don't mean salaries. The salary issue is but a pittance in comparison to the real issue at stake – class sizes.
The Ford government wants to increase class sizes so it can cut down on the number of teachers on the provincial payroll.
Under the previous Liberal government, class sizes were capped at an average of 22 students. The Ford government initially wanted to increase the cap to 28 students, or about 30 per cent more. But a 30 per cent increase in class sizes would lead to a 30 per cent decrease in the number of teachers needed to man those classes.
Understandably, the teachers unions were upset. The Ford government has since reduced the cap to 25 students per classroom, but that’s still a 15 per cent increase which equates to a 15 per cent decrease in the number of teachers.
The Ford government desperately wants to increase class sizes so they can reduce the number of teachers and save money that would help limit the size of the provincial deficit.
The problem is that by increasing class sizes without increasing the resources needed to help teachers effectively manage the extra students will have an adverse impact on the classroom and students will suffer.
When it comes to wages, the two sides are not that far apart. The teachers want a two per cent increase but the province only wants to give them one per cent. The difference is $860 for the average teacher earning $86,000 a year. That works out to $16.54 per week before taxes and other deductions are applied.
Let's say the teachers are in the 20 per cent tax bracket. If so, they would be left with an extra $13.25 per week. It would barely register a blip on their existing paycheques, but multiply $860 times every teacher in the province and you get an idea of what the province stands to save if they stick to one per cent.
So what's the solution? First, of all I'm not sure the issue of class sizes can ever be solved at the negotiating table. It's a policy issue. Like it or not, the Conservatives campaigned on increasing class sizes. And, like it or not, elections have consequences. A majority of Ontarians voted for Doug Ford and the Conservative Party in the last election – some because they supported the Conservative Party's policies and some because they wanted to teach the Liberals a lesson.
If Ontario parents want smaller class sizes they have to vote accordingly in the next election. The same goes for parents in Orléans in the upcoming by-election. They should not have to depend on teachers doing it at the bargaining table for them.
– Fred Sherwin, editor