Education Minister Lisa Thompson says education unions are being “irresponsible” for not coming to the bargaining table early, as she has asked.
Apart from Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), no other unions have served notice to bargain.
But the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association accused Thompson of playing games, saying there’s no point in bargaining while the education ministry continues to consult on issues like class size.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Thompson said the government “took the unprecedented step this month of providing teachers’ unions with an opportunity to start early good faith bargaining to allow labour negotiations to conclude in time to ensure our students will be in classes, where they belong, in September.”
With current agreements expiring at the end of August — a practice that was formally put in place by the previous Progressive Conservative government under Mike Harris — Thompson said the date “coincides with the start of the fall school year. We believe this is unacceptable. Our government will be considering changing the expiry date of future education sector labour agreements to a different time of year to minimize any disruption to students’ ability to attend class.”
She said the unions that “continue to delay the bargaining process are acting irresponsibly and causing unnecessary fear and anxiety for parents.”
Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, said “the inflammatory statements made by Minister of Education Lisa Thompson about teachers’ organizations being unwilling to begin bargaining are a childish, desperate attempt to shift blame for the damage the government is doing to publicly funded education in Ontario.”
Stuart said the government is currently in the midst of consultations around class size increases, compensation for public sector workers and the fair hiring process for teachers. “These are matters that should properly be dealt with through collective bargaining, but discussions cannot begin while the government is still pretending that the matters are up for debate with other parties.”
Parents, Stuart added, should “know that Catholic teachers want to be in their classrooms teaching come this September, despite the disruption this government is causing by the elimination of thousands of classes across the province of Ontario” by boosting class sizes starting in Grade 4.
The OSSTF filed its formal notice to begin bargaining on Monday, a procedural move that prompts a meeting between the sides within the next 15 days to discuss what issues will be bargained centrally — typically big-money items — and what will be negotiated between individual boards and union locals in the province’s two-tier bargaining system.
Education contracts expire at the end of August. In the past, talks would typically have started around June.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy