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Teachers march outside Market Lane Junior and Senior Public School on Jan 20 2020. Elementary school teachers across Toronto are out on strike as well as several other boards.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Talks between the union that represents public elementary teachers and government negotiators have wrapped up for the day, with both sides agreeing to resume bargaining on Thursday.

The meeting Wednesday involving the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario was the first in more than a month.

A government-appointed mediator called the two sides back to the table as elementary teachers are in the middle of rotating strikes and are planning to escalate them next week.

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Education Minister Stephen Lecce wouldn’t say if that means either side has signalled a willingness to soften positions. But, Mr. Lecce said, he hopes the union makes a move.

“I can’t speak about the issues at the table while we’re negotiating other than to assert to you that we have made it clear to the mediator we want to keep the dialogue going,” he said in an interview.

“My team has the latitude, I think, to get to a deal and [has] been reasonable in amending our proposals. I just need ETFO … to do the same.”

Union president Sam Hammond has said he hopes the government negotiators have a mandate to remove further cuts, increase supports for students with special needs, address violence in classrooms, preserve the current kindergarten model and maintain fair and transparent hiring practices.

Mr. Lecce said he has already committed to preserving the current ‘one teacher, one early-childhood educator’ model of full-day kindergarten, but Mr. Hammond said government negotiators have not committed to that at the table.

The minister said he has also committed to working to reduce violence in schools and “continuing on the path” of investing high amounts in special education.

ETFO, as with other teachers’ unions, is seeking inflationary raises, which would amount to 2 per cent a year, while the government is not budging beyond offering 1 per cent.

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The elementary teachers’ union has been staging one-day, rotating strikes since last week, and the boards targeted Wednesday were Greater Essex County, Near North, Limestone and Upper Canada.

If no deal is reached by Friday, ETFO plans to stage a provincewide strike once a week – with the first one set for Thursday, Feb. 6 – and each board where it has members will be hit by a one-day rotating strike as well.

The government plans to compensate parents of children affected by rotating strikes with up to $60 a day, a move union leaders characterized as a “bribe.”

So far, the government has received just more than 248,000 applications – about 17 per cent of those eligible to claim the money.

Mr. Lecce described the uptake as large and said it is a positive sign.

The union representing French teachers also has talks with the government on Wednesday and Thursday.

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All four major teachers’ unions are engaged in some form of job action, from work-to-rule campaigns to rotating strikes. They have been without contracts since Aug. 31.

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