Teacher work-to-rule puts sports in jeopardy
On the first day of tryouts for Northern Secondary School’s senior boys’ hockey in November, Brian Gaw was upfront with his squad, noting that labour strife could hobble their season.
And now, with the work-to-rule action by Ontario high school teachers, the Red Knights’ hockey season totalled one regular season game.
“We thought we had at least until Jan. 1,” said Gaw, who also acts as convener for football and hockey at the Toronto District School Board. “We made a schedule based on getting half the games in, and maybe a tournament or two before Christmas.”
The work-to-rule action, in opposition to legislation that gives the province the power to stop strikes and impose collective agreements on teachers, means that public high school teachers have ceased their involvement in extracurricular activities indefinitely including sports teams and Christmas concerts.
Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation representatives say their union made this decision because it believed its backs was against the wall.
“There were certain things that were taking place, the fact that it became clear that the ministry, when they bargained these local deals [with local boards], the minister kept trying to change each one in order to get a worse one in the end,” said Doug Jolliffe, president of the union’s Toronto district. “There was no more progress to be made, and they decided that, reluctantly, to go after the extracurriculars.”
Many sports currently beginning their seasons, including hockey, men’s basketball, and swimming, have been cut short.
Despite the halt, Jolliffe says that coaches in his district fully support the move.
“We’ve kept in touch with them. We have said to them ‘This is not where we wanted to go,’ but they understand what the fight is about,” Jolliffe said.
That includes Gaw.
“Going into September, we didn’t know what to expect, we knew there was going to be something in terms of labour unrest,” he said. “With extracurriculars, we don’t want to punish the kids, but it’s the only thing we can do that actually means something.”
Board spokesperson Ryan Bird, says the board’s focus is on ensuring that the “integrity of the learning day” is not affected by the union’s actions.
“From our perspective as a board, there’s no specific plan in place for [navigating the lack of sports] because it’s a lack of extracurriculars, there’s nothing we really have to do,” Bird said. “The typical learning day continues, as per normal, but the students will not have extracurriculars.”
For some students who don’t play organized sports outside of school, the labour strife means they are unable to play the games they love.
“One of my students play on a club volleyball team, but for the most part, none of them have that outlet,” said one teacher, who coaches swimming and volleyball at her school and requested her name be withheld for concern of repercussions from the union.
“At the school I’m at, it’s very focused on extracurriculars, we have lots of drama and musicals,” said the teacher, who spoke to the Town Crier at the board’s first scheduled swim meet Dec. 5. “The kids’ focus, they have to spend about half their time doing sports, half for music, which is fabulous. But, even the extracurriculars for music is going to be destroyed, too.”
But, Gaw remains optimistic of the labour talks.
“As I told the kids, that could change,” Gaw said, who spoke to the Town Crier after the Red Knights team’s game against Riverdale Collegiate Dec. 4. “There could be some negotiating going on this week, maybe over the weekend, and who knows, it could change.
“If we do have to stop, who knows how long we’re going to stop for — might be a week or a month, it could be a year.”
Jolliffe hopes for an improved situation, but notes that the saga could escalate if talks don’t improve. This includes an extended walkout, which the province has promised to respond to if they occur.
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