Ontario elementary teachers kick off week of rotating strikes as dispute continues

Ontario’s elementary teachers start a week of rotating one-day strikes today, shutting down schools in three boards.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (EFTO) is holding its first strikes today in the York Region, Toronto and Ottawa-Carleton school boards.

The strikes will hit different boards each day this week as tensions escalate between the union and the province.

Some 170,000 students in Toronto alone will be affected by the job action.

This morning, ETFO President Sam Hammond said that the organization has had no “meaningful” progress in talks with the Progressive Conservative government since negotiations began in August. The two sides last met on Dec. 19, and new dates for continued discussions have been publicly released.

Full-day kindergarten, support for students with special education needs and hiring practices for occasional teachers have been particularly contentious issues between ETFO and the province, Hammond said, as well as a rate-of-inflation wage increase for teachers and education support workers.

Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce have said compensation is the primary sticking point. Last November, the PCs passed a bill that caps public sector yearly wage increases at one per cent for the next three years. Multiple unions have launched legal challenges to the legislation.

Speaking to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, Hammond said ETFO is willing to continue negotiations if the government sets new dates.

“We need to be at a table and we need to actually have a willing partner on the other side to negotiate. And there are still a number of issues on the table,” he said.

Lecce has proposed hiring a private mediator, saying that a different approach could help break the gridlock between the two sides. Hammond has rejected the proposal. The current mediator was assigned by the Ministry of Labour.

All four major teachers’ unions are engaged in job action as they negotiate new collective agreements with the government.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is holding a one-day strike at some boards on Tuesday, as is the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

Only the union representing teachers in Ontario’s French school system has contract talks scheduled with the government, even as they began a work-to-rule campaign last week.

As the unions ramp up their labour action, the province has sought to strike back.

The government announced last week that it would compensate parents affected by the elementary teacher strikes.

Under the plan, parents whose kids aren’t yet enrolled in school but attend school-based child-care centres affected by the strikes will get the most money — $60 per day — while those with children in grades 1 through 7 will get the least — $25.

While parents of secondary school students won’t get any funding, those with children with special needs up to age 21 will get $40 per day — the same amount as parents whose kids are in kindergarten.

Lecce said more than 120,000 parents have signed up for that program, which could cost the government $48 million per day if teachers from all school boards were to strike. That’s less than the $60 million per day the government spends in teacher compensation, he added.


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