Ontario reaches agreement in principle with teachers

The Globe and Mail

Liz Sandals speaks to the media following the swearing in of Kathleen Wynne as Ontario's first female premier, on Feb. 11, 2013. Ms. Sandals has been named the province’s Education Minister amid a protracted dispute between the provincial government and teachers. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The Ontario government has reached an agreement in principle with the union representing high-school teachers at the province’s public school boards.

In a letter to school boards on Sunday, Education Minister Liz Sandals said the two sides have been able to identify concerns on a number of issues, including sick leave, unpaid days, maternity leave and local bargaining.

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The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will share details of the agreement with its members over the course the next few days.

“We have indicated … that anything we agree to with our partners must reflect our current fiscal situation and fit within the ministry’s funding envelope,” Ms. Sandals wrote.

High-school union leaders signalled an end to the withdrawal of extracurriculars recently because of progress in talks with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government.

Talks are ongoing with the elementary teachers union. Last week, union leaders lifted their political protest, advising members to restore voluntary activities.

Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said all the labour unrest and uncertainty for parents and students could have been avoided this school year if both sides had a proper dialogue from the outset.

“I look forward to a permanent process by which we can negotiate with trust and transparency,” Mr. Barrett said.

Teachers began political protests in September when the Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty introduced legislation that dictated the terms of their contracts. The legislation imposed a 1.5-per-cent pay cut in the form of three unpaid professional development days, cut teachers’ annual sick days down from 20 to 11, and removed their ability to bank those sick days for a cashout upon retirement.

Teachers stopped voluntary activities such as leading clubs or sports teams and offering extra help after school.

Elementary teachers staged one-day walkouts shortly before Christmas.

The Ontario Liberals chose a new leader in January and talks between both unions and the government resumed under the new Premier.

Those talks have focused on protecting teachers’ bargaining rights by revamping, and possibly legislating, the negotiations process.

A spokeswoman for OSSTF said the union will not be commenting on the agreement until it has updated its members, which will be the end of the week.

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