ETFO files unfair labour practice complaint against Ford government for failing to bargain in good faith
August 09, 2023
TORONTO, ON – The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board against the government over its refusal to bargain in good faith.
ETFO's complaint, filed on August 8, 2023, cites that the government violated its obligation under bargaining legislation to negotiate in good faith when on July 28, 2023, it released Program/Policy Memorandum 168: Reading Instruction and Early Reading Screening (PPM 168).
ETFO’s Central Agreement for teachers and occasional teachers includes language that confirms the ability of teachers to exercise their professional judgement when choosing and implementing diagnostic tests. PPM 168 ignores teacher professional judgement in the Central Agreement, requiring elementary teachers with students in Year 2 of Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 to use a mandatory early reading screener twice per year.
“Early reading screening is an active subject of bargaining. The government knows that teachers already do assess and test students’ literacy and numeracy abilities. The government was well aware that some of the positions it was taking at the table violated professional judgement language in our collective agreement,” said ETFO President Karen Brown. “Rather than working with us collaboratively, rather than respecting the bargaining process, the government reverted to its true form and imposed a policy that violates both our members’ collective agreement rights and labour law in this province.”
Since bargaining for a new collective agreement is ongoing, a statutory freeze under the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act (SBCBA) is in effect. A statutory freeze means that the terms and conditions of an expired collective agreement remain in force and must be respected by the parties to that agreement, until a new collective agreement is reached.
Releasing PPM 168 during central bargaining, while the statutory freeze is in effect and when early reading screening was a subject of central bargaining, has violated the good faith duties imposed on all parties by education and bargaining legislation, according to ETFO’s complaint.
"The arrogance of this government to violate the statutory freeze period and restrict ETFO members’ exercise of professional judgement while we are actively negotiating at the table has pushed us to take this action," said Brown. "All parties are required, by law, to bargain in good faith. By imposing this new policy, the Ford government has determined, yet again, that it is above the law.”
"ETFO has consistently said that we are prepared to discuss early reading screening. We have also been clear that implementing a screener for early reading without providing the necessary resources, training, and other supports will leave vulnerable students behind and do nothing to truly address the issue of early literacy. In good faith, ETFO wants to negotiate a fair and reasonable collective agreement for ETFO members. We are disappointed that the government has chosen not to do so on this issue" added Brown.
Adopting a standardized early reading screener is one of 157 recommendations from the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Right to Read inquiry report. Many of the report’s recommendations call for increased funding to support student achievement, however the Ford government has cherry-picked recommendations to implement that require the least amount of investment.
“Educators recognize every student’s right to read, and they work hard to ensure all students become fluent readers who experience the joy of reading, but a screener alone is not the solution,” said Brown. “Literacy skills can’t improve without sufficient funding, staffing, supports, and smaller class sizes. Frankly, a government that has cut per-student funding by $1,200 since 2018-2019 is not a government that really cares about student success.”
ETFO has requested an expedited hearing so its complaint can be resolved with minimal disruption to either central bargaining or the 2023-2024 school year.
Documents related to ETFO’s unfair labour practice complaint can be found at etfocb.ca.