Portage la Prairie teachers have lost a labour dispute over a local school division’s mandate employees must stay at school after the final bell rings until at least 4 p.m. daily, whether or not they have been assigned after-school duties.
Last week, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba dismissed the Portage Teachers’ Association’s appeal of an arbitration panel’s November 2018 decision on the matter in favour of the Portage la Prairie School Division’s workday duration rule.
Justice Candace Grammond called the panel’s decision "justified, transparent and intelligible" in a June 15 ruling. At the same time, she said she understood why the directive was challenged.
“From a practical standpoint, teachers can and should manage their own time appropriately.” – Justice Candace Grammond
"Speaking generally, requiring teachers to remain at school until a specific time each day may be incongruous with both their professional status and the reality that they often work outside of the instruction day in any event. From a practical standpoint, teachers can and should manage their own time appropriately," Grammond said in her dismissal.
The grievance dates to 2017, when the local teachers’ union alleges the division started to enforce a long-standing rule — which it claims had not previously been consistently applied nor enforced in all area schools — that teachers must be present between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily. (Instruction in area schools typically ends around 3:30 p.m.)
The rule isn’t outlined in the parties’ collective agreement and is unique to the board in Manitoba. Notably, teachers can be exempt if they provide reasoning and according to the PTA, log their early leave with school administration.
During arbitration, the union made clear its position the prescribed workday is unfair, unreasonable and insulting, in it makes teachers "nothing more than clock-punchers." It claims the directive both ignores the reality teachers should be given flexibility with their teaching duties and the extra hours they spend doing everything from marking to volunteer coaching, in addition to interfering with familial responsibilities and medical needs.
“If I was the employer, I’d say... 'Maybe we should find a better way, a more harmonious way with working with our employees.'" – Professor Maureen Kilgour
Meantime, the division argues the rule is long-standing, requires no longer than 33 minutes of attendance after the instructional day and is in line with a teacher’s duty to maintain order and provide supervision in schools. It recommends teachers end their days by participating in meetings and dealing with other issues that arose during the day — if they aren’t assigned to bus or hallway supervision duties.
The panel sided with the division, citing the directive’s history and subsequent community expectations about teacher availability, the division’s unique rural position and teachers’ workdays not being defined by the instructional day.
According to its website, the Portage la Prairie School Division is approximately 1,500 square kilometres in size, with about 3,300 K-12 students. In addition to overseeing eight public schools, it also provides teachers and programs to 10 Hutterian colony schools.
The Portage Teachers' Association represents some 230 teachers in the division.
Maureen Kilgour, a University of Winnipeg business professor who specializes in labour relations, said the rulings should be "motivating" for both the parties to find a better way to deal with the matter through collective bargaining.
"If I was the employer, I’d say... 'Maybe we should find a better way, a more harmonious way with working with our employees,'" Kilgour said, "especially as we go forward with COVID (learning disruptions)."
Superintendent Todd Cuddington declined to comment Tuesday on the latest ruling upholding the decision; he did, however, write in an emailed statement the 4 p.m. end-of-workday practice has existed for upwards of 50 years in the division.
Both PTA president Albert Krynski and Manitoba Teachers’ Society president James Bedford said Tuesday they are reviewing the decision.
Bedford said the union may consider another appeal.
He also noted the ruling is specific to the circumstances of the division and cannot be a precedent, referencing the 2018 ruling that states the panel's findings are restricted to the "unique factual matrix in the division."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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