By Gord Bowes and Richard Leitner, News staff
Sir Allan MacNab students hit the streets along with their peers from across the province in protest against labour strife which affects them.
Pupils at the west Mountain school walked out of class Monday at 9 a.m. in protest of Bill 115 and the cancellation of sports, field trips, after-school clubs and any other extracurricular activities at both the elementary and secondary level.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board cancelled all non-classroom activitities ahead of the planned withdrawal of service by teachers.
Students carried signs and walked around the block chanting, "Kill the bill."
Bill 115 bans strike action for two years, but this prohibition only kicks in after a Dec. 31 deadline for teachers to reach a deal before one is imposed on them. The legislation also gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to stop any dispute before then. She has said she won’t intervene in one-day strikes which elementary teacher locals have begun, but will act if walkouts continue beyond that.
"It does suck that we are like a casualty of it," said Nadia Ahmed, a Grade 11 student who helped organize the MacNab protest. "But a lot of teachers feel if it were up to them they would still be doing the extracurriculars. They do have to do what their union tells them and we recognize that, which is why we are here supporting our teachers and we're not against the fact that they cut extracurriculars. Sports teams are very important, and to have a few academic clubs is very important, so we'd like to see that come back."
Ahmed is feeling the effect of the labour strife as a member of student council and one of the school's social justice clubs, which are on hold during the labour dispute.
Hamilton public school board chair Tim Simmons said he is disappointed things have gone this far, but understands the position teacher locals are in with the provincial government
“It comes down to Bill 115 being an impediment to reaching local deals.”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario is planning one-day strikes to protest Bill 115 and has promised to give affected board 72 hours’ notice. Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation has said it doesn’t plan to follow suit at this point.
Both Hamilton locals are already in a legal strike position.
“We’re waiting to see,” Simmons said of future developments. “Our hope as a board is that we have notice and our expectation is that we have notice (of any walkout), so that we can communicate to our parents and communities in time so that other arrangements can be made if need be.”
Simmons joined other trustees on Dec. 3 in voting to urge the province to review of repeal Bill 115, which sets out a framework for contract settlements accepted by Catholic teachers.
The framework includes a two-year wage freeze, an end to retirement payouts of up to six months of unused sick days and a cut in annual sick days to 10 from 20.
Max, a Grade 10 student at MacNab who didn't want to give his last name, said he doesn't agree with the cancelling of extracurricular activities nor does he agree with the controversial elements of Bill 115
"We're not the people to be taking it out one," said the student who wanted to be part of the debate club, but will have to wait.
"We're just the people who want to learn here. I don't think they should be taking away from us."
Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Hamilton-Wentworth, said the key issue in the dispute is the province’s interference with collective bargaining rights.
Her members rejected a tentative agreement with the Hamilton board reached on Nov. 18, one both sides said met the requirements of Bill 115.
“They’ve taken away us being able to sit down and have free collective bargaining with our local employer,” Mancini said.
“The issue is not the wage freeze. The issue is the stripping of our democratic rights. That is why people are so upset. That needs to be clearly and specifically stated.”