EAs Accompanying Students on Overnight Excursion is Not ‘Volunteering’

31 mai 2012 | Nadya Tymochenko

( Disponible en anglais seulement )

The Ontario Divisional Court recently heard
an application for judicial review of a labour arbitration decision involving
the Toronto District School Board (the “Board”) and the Canadian Union of
Public Employees, Local 4400, (“CUPE”) representing educational assistants (“EAs”)
working for the Board.

The issue before the arbitrator was whether
four EAs, who agreed to attend an overnight excursion after the Board made a
request for volunteers to attend, were owed pay as a result of their attendance
on the excursion.  The arbitrator,
relying on article W.25 in the collective agreement, found that the EAs were
owed 5 hours of pay.  The article stated:
“Employees who are required to accompany classes on overnight visits shall
receive five (5) hours pay at their regular rate of pay for each night of the
overnight visit.  Such hours shall not be
counted towards eligibility for overtime.”

The Board sought judicial review of the
decision arguing that article W.25 did not apply because the EAs had
volunteered to attend the excursion and were not “required” or, in other words,
compelled by the Board to attend.  CUPE
argued that the word “required” in article W.25 should be interpreted to mean
that the EAs were needed or necessary for the excursion to proceed.

In addition to article W.25, the arbitrator
considered article AA.2 which provided that volunteers would not be used by the
Board “if such use adversely affects the terms and conditions of employment of
a bargaining unit Employee or permanently replaces, or is used in lieu of
employing a Bargaining Unit Employee.”

The arbitrator found that the same staffing
ratio required at the school was required for the excursion and that employees
were asked to volunteer to attend the excursion.  The arbitrator also found that, had an insufficient
number of staff volunteered to attend, the excursion would not have proceeded.

The arbitrator concluded that it was
inconsistent with the terms of the collective agreement for EAs to volunteer to
do their own jobs without pay, and that they were “needed” for the excursion to
proceed, consistent with CUPE’s interpretation of the word “required” in
article W.25.

The Divisional Court found that the decision
of the arbitrator was reasonable and that the decision provided the requisite
level of justification, transparency and intelligibility.

The staffing of school excursions can be a
difficult issue for school boards, particularly when there are a number of
students with high needs who are attending the excursion.  In some cases, it may be necessary for
schools to reconsider the destination and/or the duration of the excursion to ensure
that all of the students who wish to participate are able to do so.  The inability of a school to find a
sufficient number of staff to accompany students and provide accommodations for
one or more students with special needs should not be a barrier to a particular
student’s attendance on an excursion.

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