Ontario’s public school teachers are close to voting on deals reached with the Liberal government, signalling a possible end to the labour turmoil that has gripped the school system through most of the academic year.
Leaders of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will meet on Thursday to discuss an agreement-in-principle before taking it to their members for a vote. Meanwhile, Sam Hammond, president of the elementary teachers’ union, said much of the “heavy-lifting” had been done, although he wouldn’t commit to a time frame to reach an official deal. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said details have yet to be finalized, although “understandings have been reached” in several areas.
Discussions with the government have focused on better payouts for younger teachers who lost their banked sick days when the Liberals imposed the terms of their contracts, as well as improved maternity leave and sick leave benefits. Mr. Hammond told reporters on Wednesday that the negotiated changes were “very significant” and that the union’s 76,000 members would have to vote on any agreement.
Both OSSTF and the ETFO advised their members in recent weeks to resume leading extracurricular activities based on the progress made in their negotiations with Ontario’s new leadership.
Pressure has been mounting on union leaders to reach an agreement as public sentiment turned against teachers and Ontario families considered moving their children to the Catholic and private school systems, where teachers’ protests have not disrupted extracurricular activities, such as clubs and sports teams.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement on Wednesday that she is pleased with the progress in talks.
“While we continue to work towards a final agreement, I am confident ... we will be able to come to a resolution that will see stability in our schools for the duration of this contract,” she said.
Teachers began political protests in September when the Liberal government introduced Bill 115, a controversial piece of legislation that dictated the terms of their contracts. Teachers stopped voluntary activities such as leading clubs or sports teams and offering extra help after school.
The Ontario Liberals chose a new leader in January, and talks between both unions and the government resumed under Premier Kathleen Wynne.