On November 4, 2022, 55,000 education workers and members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) went on strike as a result of the breakdown of negotiations at the bargaining table. CUPE refused the Ontario government’s final offer to increase wages by 2.5% each year for education workers earning less than $43,000, and 1.5% for workers earning more. Since bargaining commenced, CUPE has been demanding wage increases of 11.7% per year, paid preparation time, professional development, increased benefits and overtime pay, among other things.
In anticipation of the strike, the provincial government had introduced Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022 (the “Act”), which received royal assent on November 3, 2022.
The Act brought an end to the negotiations between CUPE and the Ontario government by unilaterally implementing a new collective agreement with a term of nearly four (4) years. The Act also provided for the termination of any ongoing strike and prohibited further strikes and lockouts.
Further, the Act included a provision that exempted it from the application of Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the “Code”), and was to operate notwithstanding sections 2, 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Act also imposed significant fines on CUPE and its members for each day they engaged in a strike or lockout.
On Monday, November 7, 2022, Premier Doug Ford announced that he would repeal the Act if CUPE agreed to end the strike and return to the bargaining table in good faith. CUPE agreed to end the walk-out and classes resumed on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. The Act has not yet been formally repealed.
As the parties head back to the bargaining table, it is unclear at this time whether negotiations will be successful. Given that Premier Ford has committed to repealing the Act, CUPE could potentially still strike in the event negotiations break down again.
Ontario employers should be well-prepared in the event of another strike by education workers, as further strike may impact their business in a variety of ways. For instance, if schools are forced to close yet again, employers may be required to accommodate their employees’ childcare needs by allowing them to work from home.
During this time, employers should also review their statutory and contractual obligations to ensure that they are prepared to comply with all applicable requirements, and that they understand the options available to them, in the event of another strike. For more information on employer obligations in the event of a further strike, please read our previous bulletin.