New horror stories about vanishing extracurriculars—even cancelled proms—surface every day from high schools across the board. Teachers everywhere are adopting the infamous “work-to-rule”: dropping voluntary commitments like rotten eggs to protest Bill 115 (the Putting Students First Act). If that’s true, then why all the hype about music council or art council or any other club? What’s the point if they’re all going to be cancelled soon? Truth is, there’s a big difference between what individual teachers are doing and what the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has planned.
“Right now [the union is] negotiating with the TDSB,” said Mr. Jan, Marc Garneau’s OSSTF representative. “We’re going to follow the standard labour negotiation pathways.” There are a series of steps to this process, with work-to-rule or a full strike as the final resort. “We have applied for what is called a conciliator,” he said. “But the Minister of Education can put a stop to that. Under … Bill 115, the Minister of Education and cabinet could say stop [at any stage of negotiation] and force teachers to stop.” Aside from the conciliator, however, the OSSTF has not issued any binding directives—much less a work-to-rule. It is currently waiting on member votes from across the province to decide next steps. “The overall Toronto district secondary schools voted 93.4% in favour of strike action, or job action,” said Mr. Jan. “Marc Garneau teachers voted 89% in favour of job action.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the end of clubs, teams, and extra help. “Withdrawal of extracurriculars [is] the last resort,” he said. “We do not want to put students’ extracurriculars at risk.”
Work-to-Rule vs. Selective Withdrawal
A selective withdrawal of services by teachers is one possible means of job action. This differs from a full-blown work-to-rule, however. “A full work-to-rule would be only teachers teaching, and nothing else, ” explained Mr. Jan. “Basically we’d show up 15 minutes before school starts, sit in the parking lot, wait till 15 minutes, go in en masse, do [our] assigned duties in the school day, then at closing time we all leave.” A full work-to-rule would eliminate clubs, events, and even extra help. “Strict adherence to exactly what the job description states,” he said, “So that’s why we’re not doing work to rule.” Instead, the OSSTF is considering a selective withdrawal of certain services. “We won’t touch anything that deals with students, [only] administration,” he added. “For example, on Fridays we generally have staff meetings. That’s out of the window.” Although the OSSTF is still deciding on which duties to withdraw, student-related services won’t be on the list. “Withdrawal of voluntary extracurriculars is only as a last result,” Mr. Jan said.
Garneau’s Teacher Perspective
Although overwhelmingly in favour of job action, Garneau teachers expressed mixed feelings regarding a possible work-to-rule. “I don’t feel very comfortable at all about a work-to-rule,” said one teacher, “I think that when the government passes a bill titled ‘Putting Students First’ we should do everything we can to show the public that this is exactly what we have always been doing. And work-to-rule will go against that if it affects clubs.” Another teacher cited possible negative consequences. “We do more harm than good in a work-to-rule,” he said, “It will cause a lot of disruption in our scheduled routine.” A third teacher voiced concerns about public backlash. “It can certainly create a resentment of teachers among parents and students,” he said, “When they go to vote—and when students go to vote later in their lives—their voting habits will reflect that.”
Other teachers supported work-to-rule as a form of job action. “I am completely in favour,” said one teacher. “The government needs to realize that [the way] they imposed the new contract was wrong.” Another teacher cited violation of workers’ rights. “Ultimately, it’s the elimination of rights that we’re fighting for,” he said. “When people say no, you’re harming students—well, we are fighting for those democratic rights that we believe that students, parents, and children should have.”
What about the Students?
In the meantime, Garneau teachers will continue to supervise their clubs and other activities. “Extracurricular [involvement] is still on an individual basis by teachers,” said Mr. Jan. “Contracts [continue until] December 31st, after that point the province has a right to impose the law on us … depending on how the Minister [of Education] acts, there may be a withdrawal of extracurriculars—union leadership will have to decide on that.” For students interested in looking deeper into the issue, he advises that they “talk to parents and do their own research.” Those that are expressly interested in clubs for the new semester, however, can find a list of returning clubs here.