In November 2022, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Canada’s labour movement celebrated the repeal of Bill 28, draconian anti-worker legislation introduced by the Ontario government. The bill unilaterally imposed a collective contract on 55,000 education workers and levied hefty fines for striking. The move escalated a bitter dispute over salary demands for education workers, including custodians, early childhood educators and education assistants.
Earlier in 2022, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents more than 700,000 workers across Canada, had called for an 11.3 per cent pay rise for its education support workers in Ontario – often the lowest-paid in schools – arguing that stagnant wage growth and high inflation had hit these workers the hardest. The Ontario government countered with a 2.5 per cent annual raise for the lowest-income workers and 1.5 per cent raises for others.
With little progress on negotiations and a strike planned on 4 November, the government fast-tracked Bill 28 on 3 November to strip workers of their right to strike, force a contract, and impose fines for striking workers of CA$4,000 (US$3,000) and for the union – CA$500,000 (US$375,000) – a day. To justify this move, the Ontario government invoked the rarely used legal mechanism known as the Notwithstanding Clause, which allows provincial and territorial governments to override certain portions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year period. The legislation marked the first time in the country’s history that the right of workers to collectively bargain and to strike was legally stripped away.
Despite the threat of heavy fines, thousands of education workers peacefully walked out on 4 November to protest the imposed collective contract and the ban on strikes.
Faced with the determination of thousands of workers and their unions, on the morning of 7 November the provincial government committed to repeal the bill and head back to the bargaining table.