While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have introduced numerous measures to improve workplace environments and raise wages in Ontario, their most recent use of back-to-work legislation to call an end to the college faculty strike is an affront to the collective bargaining process and a reflection of their true attitude toward unionized workers.
The use of similar measures has been deemed unconstitutional in the past — in 2016, similar action taken against postal workers during the Harper era was ruled to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In addition, the move also makes it incredibly difficult for unions to leverage fair contracts for the workers they represent. Instead of a prolonged strike motivating employers to put forward genuine contracts that unions could support, the use of this kind of legislation allows employers to run out the clock, proposing no contracts any responsible union could support in the process.
The Premier and Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Deb Matthews appeared together as supposed ‘gods of reason’ against the deadlock between college administrators and faculty. For her part, the Premier managed to sidestep any criticism the Liberal government deserved for its role in the deterioration of labour relations. In reality, the government’s own austerity has reduced college funding to national lows, increased tuition, and forced educators to work multiple part-time contracts to make ends meet, which ultimately culminated in faculty being pushed to the picket lines.
For unions, last Sunday’s events indicate the substantial challenges the Wynne Liberals have created for unions. For all Ontarians, however, these events should ensure that respect for unions is an election issue.
James Chapman is a third-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Urban Studies.