Four Ontario teachers unions say they won’t give up pushing for more safety for staff and students after the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) dismissed their health and safety case related to the province’s pandemic plan for schools.
The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) challenged what they say is “the lack of effective health and safety measures in the province’s Guide to Re-Opening Ontario Schools.”
That guide established the legal requirements for re-opening schools amidst the pandemic.
The unions said the OLRB didn’t dismiss the claims over the evidence they planned to present, but over jurisdictional grounds. Rather than addressing the claims jointly, the unions said the OLRB said the claims must be made individually.
“The OLRB’s decision means that educators must put forward individual complaints about health and safety violations, one at a time, for adjudication,” the unions said in a press release. “This is not a sensible approach to the problem of the pandemic.”
The unions’ complaint addressed class size and distancing, cohorts for students and teachers, masking, ventilation and busing.
Specifically, the unions want to set class sizes at a maximum of 20 students when two-metre distancing isn’t possible; set cohorts for student-to-staff contacts be set at 50 and be applicable not just to students but also staff; the School and University Reopening Standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ be used to set minimum standards for ventilation; Ontario Public Services Health and Safety Association’s busing and transportation standards as set out in the PSHSA document “Health and Safety Guidance During COVID-19 for Student Transportation Employers”, be set as the minimum standards for busing and other forms of student transportation; that all students be required to wear masks at all times during the school day, and that all standards ordered by the Ministry of Labour in respect of COVID-19 be reviewed every month for continuing compliance with the best science available at the time and updated as needed.
“Despite this decision, the four major education unions will continue to demand that the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and the Ford government protect educators, students and families from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the unions said.
A media conference with union leaders, legal counsel and health and safety experts will be held next week.