Labour minister to teachers unions: ‘My door is always open’

Monte McNaughton, the MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex and the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, makes an announcement in Watford. 14 August 2020. (BlackburnNews.com photo by Colin Gowdy)

Ontario’s labour minister says the government’s back-to-school plan puts the safety of students and education workers first, and he’s confident teachers will return to the classrooms in September.

Monte McNaughton, MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, was asked Friday about a letter from Ontario’s four major education unions, which claimed “every reasonable precaution” is not being taken as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The letter to McNaughton and Education Minister Stephen Lecce calls for an urgent meeting to be held no later than Friday, August 21, and it adds the teacher federations are prepared to go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board if necessary.

McNaughton told Blackburn News in Watford Friday that his door is always open.

“But look, this plan that we introduced is putting the safety of children, staff, and teachers first,” said McNaughton. “We’re guided by the decisions and assistance of the best medical minds in the province including [Toronto] Sick Kids Hospital.”

The unions [AEFO, ETFO, OECTA, and OSSTF] demand that critical issues, including class size, ventilation, mask policies, cohorting, screening, and busing, be appropriately addressed.

On Thursday, Lecce announced that the government is unlocking $500 million in school board reserves to help preparations for the safe start to school September 8, and is providing $50 million for improved ventilation.

McNaughton said labour inspectors are meeting with union leaders locally, and school boards to ensure that health and safety measures are in place and when September comes all the schools in the province will be inspected.

He said from speaking with teachers in his riding, they’re very excited about going back to the classroom, and they know how important it is to families to have schools reopen in a safe way.

“Grocery store clerks have worked, hardware/retail store associates have worked, truck drivers have worked, healthcare workers like PSWs have been serving families throughout this pandemic,” he said. “By talking to local teachers I know they’re excited to go back and I’m confident that teachers will go back in September.”

The unions want to hear back from the government on their demand for a meeting no later than 5 p.m. Monday, August 17.

-With files from Colin Gowdy