Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the province will return to talks with teachers when mediators call all sides back to the bargaining table.
Lecce told reporters on Monday — the first day of a string of daylong strikes by teachers across the province — that “all parties have an obligation to work very hard to get deals” and noted there are upcoming negotiations scheduled with the union representing teachers in French language boards.
However, there are no talks scheduled with the other three teacher unions — the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.
All three are staging one-day strikes this week, and the elementary teacher union has said it will continue with rotating walkouts until a deal is reached.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the current unrest “completely unnecessary” and blamed the government.
“I think that the minister knows very well that if all of the other issues are taken off the table, in terms of cuts, then bargaining on some other issues can go forward,” she said, referring to government moves such as larger class sizes and mandatory, online courses.
Lecce, she added, “can turn this around in a moment.”
The Ford government “is stubbornly ignoring the message that is being sent to them by parents — which is we want a good quality education system for our kids.”
Lecce, however, said parents “are rather displeased with the impacts of (Monday’s) one-day strikes and the upcoming withdrawal of service that’s impacting students. We owe it to the students of this province not to withdraw services from them.”
He said he “hopes the mediator brings the parties together …We stand ready to negotiate when the mediator…brings the parties together. We continue to make the case that these strikes hurt kids, with the hope that it will seize this escalation, which has had an adverse impact on learning.”
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “strike action is always frustrating because it’s not what is good for kids. We prefer them to be in classrooms, we prefer them to be learning.”
The school boards, which sit at the bargaining table with the province and teachers, also oppose larger class sizes and e-learning for all students.
“We are pleased (the government) has gone from 28 to 25” in terms of average secondary school class size, Abraham said, “but it’s still not good enough. We know our parents …most people don’t agree that larger class sizes are a good choice.”
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