Ontario’s elementary teachers’ union will resume contract negotiations this week with the province, but warns that if a deal is not reached, it plans to escalate its strike action after March break.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said it would be back at the bargaining table on Wednesday with the government. Talks broke off at the end of January.
“We do not want to escalate our job action," Karen Campbell, the union’s first vice-president, told reporters on Monday. "But if this government does not … come with a proposal that meets the needs of students and our members, we will have to reexamine that. And escalation is an option.”
About an hour before Ms. Campbell was to announce further escalation of job action, the Ministry of Labour mediator contacted ETFO inviting it to resume negotiations, according to a note the union sent its members.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Monday called on ETFO to “cease escalation and focus on negotiating a deal that keeps students in class.”
ETFO, the country’s largest education union, with 83,000 members, said it would resume rotating strikes the week of March 23 if a deal is not reached with the government.
It is unclear when school boards would be affected, but Ms. Campbell said the union would give families five-days notice before a walkout.
All four main teachers’ unions have been engaged in job action, from work-to-rule to one-day strikes, over the past few months as tensions with the government have risen.
Last week, Mr. Lecce announced changes to the government’s position on a number of contentious issues.
He said the government had softened its stand once again on increasing average class sizes in high school, reducing the maximum number to 23 for the length of the contract. Previously, the government had set a goal of 28 and then 25, which would have led to thousands of fewer teachers in the education system over four years. The current average is 22.9.
Further, he said parents could have their children opt out of two online courses required to graduate from high school. Parents and the school’s guidance counsellor would meet to determine whether the courses, in Grades 11 and 12, would be appropriate. The province had initially planned to have four online courses.
Mr. Lecce also said his government had made a commitment to maintain full-day kindergarten and fully fund supports for special education and other learning needs negotiated in a previous contract.
As part of the new offer, the government would require unions to comply with its wage cap legislation, meant to limit public-sector pay increases to 1 per cent, and wants concessions on a seniority-based hiring regulation.
The government’s proposals led to some progress in talks. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association resumed bargaining last week, and was still in negotiations with the province on Monday.