Ontario’s public elementary schools will be closed for two days next week as teachers hit the picket lines after talks broke off with the provincial government late Friday night.
After three days of renewed negotiations on a new contract, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the country’s largest education union with 83,000 members, did not reach a deal with Doug Ford’s government.
ETFO had previously warned that if an agreement could not be reached by Friday, it would escalate its job action next week.
The union will go ahead with its planned province-wide walkout on Feb. 6, accompanied by a week of rotating strikes that would hit every public board on a certain day.
That action would continue each week until an agreement is reached, the union said, shuttering schools twice a week and leaving thousands of parents scrambling for child care.
ETFO has also been on work to rule, which includes not supervising extracurricular activities and not participating in field trips.
ETFO president Sam Hammond said that the union could not agree to funding cuts the government was proposing.
“ETFO made every effort over the past three days to move negotiations forward but it became increasingly clear that the Ford government was not willing to address key issues in any meaningful way,” Mr. Hammond in a statement. “For example, the government wants to reduce funding to support the learning needs of special education students, and it wants ETFO to agree to those cuts at the bargaining table. We can’t do that.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement Friday night that the mediator called off discussions “for now.” He said that the government has “has continued to signal reasonableness on issues from special education supports to efforts to counter violence in schools.”
“I have long said that compensation, pay, and benefits, remain a top priority for teachers’ union leaders, and that remains true today,” Mr. Lecce added. “Even following our formal commitment to one of their publicly-stated priorities [to keep the full-day kindergarten program], ETFO leadership continues to advance compensation for their members over the protection of the education system for our youngest learners.”
All the main teachers’ unions in the province are involved in some type of job action, from work to rule to strikes, for the first time in more than 20 years.
Among the issues are class sizes in kindergarten, junior and intermediate grades and high school, mandating that high-school students take two online courses, maintaining the full-day kindergarten program with a teacher and an early childhood educator, and compensation. The unions are asking for 2-per-cent cost-of-living increases in line with inflation – in the face of the government’s wage-cap legislation meant to limit public-sector pay increases to 1 per cent.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will resume its rotating strikes next week, after pausing during the exam period. There have been no talks scheduled between the union and the government.
Meanwhile, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association is planning to hold its second one-day province-wide strike on Tuesday.
President Liz Stuart said this week that the union was called back to the bargaining table on Monday, but, as it stands now, the strike action for Feb. 4 would still go ahead.
“We are pleased to be getting back to negotiations. However, it remains to be seen how serious the discussions will be," Ms. Stuart said in a statement. “We would like nothing more than to focus on reaching an agreement, but the government needs to understand that their proposed cuts simply cannot stay on the table.”