5th December 2023

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Published Tuesday, October 31, 2023 2:46PM EDT

Last Updated Tuesday, October 31, 2023 3:36PM EDT

TORONTO – Ontario has agreed to give public high school teachers and some elementary school education workers retroactive salary increases to compensate them for constrained wages under a law known as Bill 124.

Education workers represented by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario ratified a new contract last week and the union said Tuesday that the deal includes an agreement on a Bill 124 remedy.

“Since its unconstitutional inception, ETFO has denounced Bill 124 and challenged the Ford government’s interference and overreach,” president Karen Brown wrote in a statement.

That 2019 law capped salary increases for public sector workers to one per cent a year for three years. An Ontario court has declared it unconstitutional, ruling that it infringes on the workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The government has appealed, but ETFO said any future court rulings won’t affect the retroactive pay.

Since it was found unconstitutional, arbitrators have awarded additional retroactive pay to several groups of workers, including nurses and other hospital workers, ORNGE air ambulance paramedics, and college faculty.

It has also been a major issue in this round of education bargaining, with the unions representing teachers and other workers raising the issue of retroactive compensation as they seek pay increases for their next contracts.

Most are still at the table with the government, but ETFO said Tuesday that the agreement reached with the government for its 3,500 education worker members – such as early childhood educators – includes an additional 0.75 per cent in salary increases for the first two years of the contract covered by Bill 124.

The amount for the third year will be decided by an arbitrator, but the two sides have agreed that it will be between 1.5 and 3.25 per cent.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said it has agreed to the same terms with the government and the two unions will present a “united front” when going to arbitration on the third-year remedy, with dates set for Jan. 15 and 16.

Neither union would say why an agreement couldn’t be reached on an amount for the third year.

“Today, we celebrate labour solidarity in the face of the Ford government’s continued attacks on our members and all workers who provide the vital public services that Ontarians rely on every single day,” OSSTF president Karen Littlewood wrote in a statement.

OSSTF has agreed to a novel process in which issues that the two sides could not agree upon at the bargaining table beyond a certain date would be decided by binding arbitration, eliminating the possibility of strikes.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has urged the other teachers’ unions to accept the same bargaining pathway, but they have so far rejected the proposal.

“Our priority is to keep kids in class, which we are proud to have achieved with OSSTF teachers and education workers, as well as ETFO education workers,” he wrote Tuesday in a statement.

“We encourage all other unions work with us and sign a deal that puts students first and keeps kids in class.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2023.