Premier Doug Ford is set to repeal the controversial bill that ordered 55,000 striking school staff to return to work and imposed a four-year contract on them — sparking an outcry from the labour movement — as talks with their union continue.
On Monday afternoon, the Ford government will introduce new legislation to rescind Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act. It is expected to receive unanimous consent from all parties to push it through.
“(Last) Monday, education workers received an assurance, in writing, that the rights-trampling Bill 28 will be repealed in a manner such that it will be deemed to have never been the law of Ontario,” said Laura Walton, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ school boards bargaining unit.
“Repealing Bill 28 is important for maintaining the fundamental freedoms of all workers here and across the country, and for the credibility of the Ford government.”
She said “we expect whatever new legislation is brought forward to repeal Bill 28 will do exactly as the government promised and nothing else. There must be no surprises for workers or anyone.”
On Friday, bargaining sessions for a fourth day continued between the sides, aided by mediator William Kaplan. The talks are under a media blackout.
Premier Doug Ford backed away from Bill 28 last week, after CUPE’s support staff walked off the job for two days in spite of the legislation banning strikes. His use of the “notwithstanding clause” to impose a contract was met with widespread criticism, especially among both public and private labour unions.
But after the government pledged in writing to reverse it, CUPE called off its job action, allowing hundreds of thousands of kids to return to school.
The government also withdrew its application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to rule the walkout illegal, and has also said it will not fine CUPE members or the union for the two-day walkout.
Under Bill 28, daily fines were set at $4,000 per individual and $500,000 for the union — or more than $220 million a day,
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Both CUPE and Ford have said they cannot comment on the current bargaining talks.
“We will be limiting our comments to the media while in mediation to better direct our efforts to reaching a freely negotiated agreement,” said CUPE, which initially engaged in transparent bargaining by posting all offers and information online.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ford said “I want to work co-operatively with CUPE and other partners to make sure we take care of the lowest paid people within CUPE.”
The Star has previously revealed that the government had boosted its wage offer to CUPE to more than 3.5 per cent annually for those earning less than $43,000 and to almost two per cent for those making more.
Both the province and the union disputed those figures, but three sources from camps privy to the high-level talks have confirmed those numbers.
CUPE has said it is opposed to the idea of two-tier wage increases. It had initially asked for a $3.25 an hour bump in wages, or about 11 per cent a year, for all workers, but later cut that demand by about half.
In Ford’s legislation that overrode Charter rights, the government gave the lowest-paid CUPE members 2.5 per cent annual raises and those making more than $43,000 a 1.5 per cent yearly hike.
CUPE has planned a number of rallies outside Progressive Conservative MPP offices this weekend, including Ford’s and Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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