Labour unrest must be infuriating for new teachers

Unions demand too much in era of high unemployment

How terribly drôle it must be for recent education graduates with a seat to the teacher contract disputes in Ontario and British Columbia.

In the province of Ontario, the teacher’s federation is busy expressing its “insult” at the latest government contract proposal to freeze their wages, which top out at around $95,000.

Meanwhile, as many as two-thirds of education grads in the province are under- or unemployed.

The circumstances in B.C. are different; their pay is lower, maxing out at about $75,000.

Still, I suspect that teachers walking off their jobs with demands for a 15 per cent wage increase may rouse at least some contempt among those who dream, while folding clothes at the local mall, of getting a teaching job—any teaching job.

As with any contentious negotiations, the unions are working to get public opinion on their sides.

But winning over those who are raring to get into the field may prove difficult, considering the disconnect between young people’s economic realities and the teachers’ unreal demands.

Just look at Ontario. The McGuinty government asked teachers last week to “do their part” to rein in spending by accepting a two-year wage freeze and reduction to sick day benefits. These suggestions were deemed nothing short of “insulting” by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation.

The proposed two-year wage freeze—which would help the province preserve the many positions it created with the introduction of full-day kindergarten—would follow a 34 per cent wage increase over the past eight years, wherein the average teacher’s salary rose to $83,500.

Ask many private sector employees and taxpayers who have struggled during recent times of economic downturn, and they might, indeed, call that level of compensation “insulting.”

But the even more contentious issue seems to be that of sick day leave. Ontario teachers get 20 paid days per years. If they don’t take them, they can bank up to 200 of those days and cash them out at 50 per cent of their salary at retirement, amounting to a maximum of $46,000.

New teachers in Ontario start at around $41,000 to $44,000, depending on the board.

Interesting, then, that under the current sick-day system, the retirement-time perk adds up to roughly the cost of a full-time new position (minus the cost of substitutes). No wonder new grads are having a hard time finding jobs; their would-be salaries are paid out to retirees who managed to stay healthy!

The province has suggested reducing the number of paid annual sick days to six and eliminating the ability to bank unused days, while protecting days already accumulated by current teachers.

The proposal, unsurprisingly, has been scoffed at by the teacher’s federation.

Prospective teachers, in the meantime, are left to twiddle their thumbs through the strikes and negotiations, while union bosses play politics and gasp at perceived injustices.

Thus, teachers looking for sympathy shouldn’t look too far beyond their own ranks. There are plenty of qualified young people who would happily take their jobs, if only they got the chance.