Ontario’s education minister says “parents should not be in this position” of dealing with a one-day strike by high school teachers on Wednesday, and adds that the province has moved on key issues at the negotiating table while the union has not.
But NDP education critic Marit Stiles blasted Premier Doug Ford’s government on Monday for the ongoing impasse with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, saying “when you cut your cuts in half, that doesn’t make an improvement.”
Parents, she added, don’t want to see larger classes in high school or their children forced to earn two mandatory online credits. The government is now proposing that classes grow to an average size of 25 students from last year’s 22, instead of its originally proposed 28, and that students must take two e-learning classes instead of the originally proposed four.
While the government continues to negotiate with education unions, both sides have expressed frustration with the lack of progress.
The government has reached one deal so far, with support staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees. That deal landed on the eve of a planned strike that would have shut down schools across the province.
Wednesday’s daylong strike by the high school teachers’ union, the OSSTF, is set to be its first in more than two decades.
The union represents teachers in all English public boards, as well as support and professional staff such as psychologists in public, Catholic and French boards in both elementary and secondary schools. If the job action goes ahead, it would shut down some public boards entirely, including Greater Essex County, Ottawa-Carleton, and Near North as well as Simcoe Muskoka Catholic.
Talks continued Monday and were scheduled to continue into Tuesday, but OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said reaching a deal in time to avoid the one-day strike appears unlikely, given that the government has not budged on making cuts.
“It’s time for the government to listen,” said Bischof, adding e-learning and bigger classes will impact the quality of education and there is little public support for either.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is “staying at the table 24/7 in good faith to get a deal because parents should not be in this position on Wednesday” because of “union escalation.”
“We have been flexible and reasonable,” Lecce said. “I’m calling on them to do the same.”
Lecce has said a key issue at the table is salaries, with OSSTF seeking raises equal to the cost of living — about two per cent a year — despite provincial legislation capping pay boosts at one per cent. He said each one-per-cent increase for all education workers would cost the province $750 million over a four-year agreement.
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the key issue is the government’s plan for bigger classes and online learning that will lead to thousands of teaching jobs lost as well as tens of thousands fewer course options.
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Ontario’s public elementary teachers will not be taking part in the daylong strike, but like the OSSTF they are currently working to rule. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has requested a no-board report, which puts it about three weeks away from being in a legal strike position.
“Premier Ford and Minister Lecce have already wasted enough of everybody’s time and resources by failing to take negotiations seriously,” said OECTA president Liz Stuart. “If they genuinely want to help students succeed, they will come back to the bargaining table with a proposal that improves the learning and working conditions in our schools.”