By Darren Lum
As colleagues walked back and forth in front of Haliburton Highlands Secondary School carrying flags and picket signs during the second one-day strike in two weeks their collective bargaining representative for OSSTF – Haliburton Jason Morissette spoke about negotiations between the provincial government and the teachers’ union.
“We’re here because we truly are fighting to protect honestly our students and the quality of education and the accessibility to it. Imagine being a special needs student and you’re forced to do online learning. It’s a devastating proposal and to cut your services for a lot of the most vulnerable kids in our community. What will happen to the system? Graduation rates? Test scores? All of these things” he said.
Close to 40 HHSS teachers and teachers from the neighbouring Adult and Alternate Education Centre marched from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday Dec. 11. Organized into two groups one in the morning and the other in the afternoon the members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation marched the picket line. The group was also joined by CUPE members such as education assistants during their lunch hour.
Major points of contention include class sizes e-learning layoffs and compensation. There hasn’t been a contract since August.
Morissette said he wants the public to examine the facts talk to teachers and learn about them and what they are standing up for which is not just for themselves but for the students and quality education.
With a retired HHSS teacher for a father three children attending Haliburton public schools and being a HHSS graduate himself Morissette is a passionate proponent of the public education system.
“I call it one of the greatest equalizers in society. There’s a lot of people that come from different circumstances and because they get access to a quality public education system [they are afforded opportunities]” he said. “All these kids here are all in here together. Whatever your background is wherever you come from … It really builds for a strong strengthened education opportunity and experience but it also builds for a strong community. You get to know every walk of life. That’s why I love working every day.”
He said he’s never experienced this kind of strike action before.
“I’ve never done this. I’ve never been on strike while on the picket line. It hasn’t happened since 1997” he said.
As a teacher’s son he learned about the time and effort a teacher puts in outside of school hours.
Morissette said he spent many hours travelling with students riding school buses for field trips academics or sports. He acknowledges he and other teachers benefit as much as the students from these experiences but points out many extracurriculars are made possible because of the involvement and passion of teachers.
“I’m talking about all kinds of things that we do because it’s good for kids it’s good for us and our spirit but again if you demoralize the profession if you demoralize and don’t value a public education system that’s very successful and you’re saying it isn’t. Then you’re saying you want to make extreme changes to a system that you think is broken. By all measure of the data just look at the facts it’s a very successful system. It’s been very successful for many many decades. Many years” he said.
Four teachers’ unions are filing a court challenge against the provincial government over Bill 124 the Protecting Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. Unions said this bill caps all public sector salary increases to one per cent annually for the next three years. They contend this violates their charter rights.
Morissette was angered by this government action.
“You can’t legislate. That’s not a good start. For anything anybody. I don’t care if it’s the teachers or anybody. In society a good relationship is built upon mutual respect. I don’t think legislating is showing any sign of respect towards our profession or the system the students and their needs” he said.
Responding to OSSTF job action Minister of Education Stephen Lecce released a statement: “OSSTF union leadership have made clear that they will continue to take job action – which hurts students most – unless taxpayers accept their demand of $7 billion in enhancements to salaries benefits and other entitlements.
“If there were any question that this wasn’t about salary those doubts were put to bed when the four teacher unions launched their challenge to legislation that deals with compensation increases for the public service.
“We have made a reasonable offer on compensation – a $750 million increase in compensation for the second highest paid educators in the country.
“We are calling on OSSTF to cease from continued job action accept our offer of private mediation stay at the table and focus on improving learning in the classroom not enhancing compensation for their members.”
Morissette said OSSTF will give five days notice before another walkout.
“I hope people understand” he said.