Ontario parents race to find child care ahead of planned walkout by education workers
By Jordan Omstead and Sharif Hassan
Some families in Ontario are scrambling to make alternative child-care plans after several boards said they would close schools Friday in response to a planned walkout by education workers.
The Toronto District School Board — Canada’s largest school district — said late Monday it has “no option” but to close for in-person learning because it can’t guarantee school safety and cleanliness without the services of those employees, including librarians, custodians and early childhood educators.
Riaz Ahmed, the father of a first grader and a junior kindergartner in the board, said the planned school closures have complicated his plans for Friday because both he and his wife are working parents.
“It is going to be tricky,” he said outside Thorncliffe Park Public School on Tuesday morning, after dropping off his children. “We are still planning, and we are still trying to figure out a way.”
Legislation imposes contract
The Ontario government introduced legislation Monday to impose a contract on education workers with the Canadian Union of Public Employees and avert a strike set to start Friday.
CUPE said its 55,000 education worker members will walk off the job in a provincewide protest Friday despite the legislation, which will use the notwithstanding clause to keep the eventual law in force in the event of any constitutional challenges.
Danyaal Raza said he and his partner were still working out child-care plans for his six-year-old, who attends Grade 1 at a TDSB school, as they look to either adjust work schedules or ask grandparents for support.
He said the walkout was “no doubt going to cause some short-term disruption and short-term frustration,” but he said he supports the education workers’ right to strike and negotiate a deal.
“I was quite actually shocked to see that not only was that not going to happen, but that the provincial government was using the notwithstanding clause to override that right,” said Raza, a family physician.
TDSB said childcare centres operated by the board and third parties inside schools will also be closed Friday.
The Thames Valley District School Board in London, Ont., said Monday it would move to “independent/remote” learning Friday if education workers staged a full walkout.
Hamilton’s Catholic school board said it would also close schools to students if services were fully withdrawn.
Other Ontario school boards provided updates on the weekend when CUPE gave a five-day strike notice, but before the government tabled its back-to-work legislation.
Catholic school boards in Ottawa and Toronto had said they would close schools on Friday if services were fully withdrawn.
Support for workers
Syed Zadai, the father of a Grade 5 student, pointed fingers at the provincial government for the school closures.
“They have the right to do that,” he said of the planned walkout. “And (the) government should listen to them instead of passing laws (against them).”
“I support the school staff,” he said, adding the government “must negotiate” a fair deal with education workers.
The government had been offering raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, but Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the new, imposed four-year deal would give 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.
CUPE has said its workers, which make on average $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in schools and it has been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent.
More than 96 per cent of CUPE’s education worker members voted in favour of a strike.
The public school board in Hamilton said on the weekend it was planning to implement contingency measures to keep schools “safely open as long as possible.”
Public boards in Ottawa and Waterloo Region have said planned job action would not affect their operations since employees were represented by different unions.
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