Opening Statement



Sunday, 5 June 2011

Teacher Safety: Are You Safe At School?

Have you been in serviced on Bill 168, the new Health and Safety Act? Do you know what it's all about? Do you even care? Unfortunately many of our TSU teachers probably think of WMIS training, or that Bill 168 must deal with asbestos, the storage of chemicals in the science lab, or the janitor's closet. Few of us seem to have grasped the profound affect this act will have upon our teacher safety. This new teachers safety act, is our counter piece to Bill 157 the Safe schools act, which primarily deals with the students. Instead it is there to protect us. Safe schools must be safe places for teachers too!

Under the terms of Bill 168, student assaults upon teachers, or harassment from administration, the board or even our co-workers has now been defined as a Health and Safety issue. This is a major development with profound long term implications for our school workplace. From now on a school is no different than a factory, office or any other workplace where anyone might work and get hurt or harassed. These problems are now the concern and responsibility of the Ontario Ministry of Labour. They can be called to investigate and to take action to guarantee teacher safety at school. You are even entitled to conduct a legal work refusal if you are in danger. Maybe the building is crumbling and unsafe. Or maybe the teachers are being bullied, attacked and threatened by the students, or picked on by the office, the board, or the even other teachers in the school.

Think of it this way: In a factory a worker cannot be forced to work in an unsafe environment, for example on a dangerous machine. Proper safety guards must be in place so they don't get hurt. It is the managements responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Also, the bosses do not have the right to pick on or bully the workers, nor does anybody else working on the factory floor. The workers can complain to their union. The union can try to get the situation rectified locally. They can file a grievance. If need be they can also have the situation investigated and dealt with under the law by an outside third party, the Ministry of Labour.

One might well argue that our schools aren't factories, nor are our students machines. That's true, but our inner city schools are not always safe workplaces for our TSU members.  Teachers have been threatened, swarmed, robbed and even assaulted at some of our schools even over the past year. The administration, even the board, may argue that reasonable precautions were taken to address the situation. But what if under the progressive discipline model a dangerous student  is still at your school while they are being monitored, or returns from a suspension, and seeks retaliation on the teacher that complained? What if they are transferred elsewhere for a "fresh start" where the teachers aren't aware of the students triggers and the risk they can pose to their safety or well being? Or maybe a student assembly is held to read the students the "riot act" but the problems persist. What can happen under Bill 168?

We know we have a lot of good principals and board administrators who don't want to see these problems happen either. As a member of your TSU-TCDSB Joint Safe Schools Team, I know we have met with board superintendents to work out the protocols, responsibilities and professional development we all want to see developed and implemented, as everyone turns their mind to interpreting and applying the new Health and Safety Act appropriately and effectively in our schools. TSU's position is that Bill 168 is both a Joint Safe Schools and a Joint Health and Safety issue. We agreed upon an in service program with the board. By now all staff should've been informed about the new legislation and requirements. Still it remains a huge task. How many of us, teachers and board personnel alike realize the profound changes this act now legislates for providing teacher safety in our schools during the years ahead?

Big changes do not happen overnight. You should've seen the TCDSB PD PowerPoint presentation at your school. Your TSU staff rep should have more information for you from a union perspective, which would've been provided, along with fliers to hand out, at our monthly Staff Rep meetings. There were the recent TSU Notes sent to everybody by email. Are you aware of what's been going on? Are you having teacher safety issues at your school? Do you know your options?

If teacher safety is a pressing and persistent problem at your school and nothing is seemingly being done to properly address the situation, TSU can and will investigate. We will work with the school, the board and the Ministry of Labour to make sure appropriate actions are being taken. And if worse come to worse, a grievance can be pursued with our help and even the OECTA provincial legal department lawyers. Of course nobody would rather go this route, but the old saying that "information is power" certainly holds true.

If you don't know what your rights and responsibilities are under Bill 168, now is the time to find out! Please ask your staff rep, call our office, or even email me if you need help, or just want to learn more. Teacher safety in our schools is now your guaranteed legal right with Ministry of Labour help, and OECTA legal aid available, to make sure it is enforced. Find out more. Let's work with our colleagues, the school, the board, OECTA TSU and the Ministry to get the job done right!

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