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Canada Ontario Liberals paid English Catholic teachers’ union $31-million as part of settlement for wage increase delays

Ontario’s Liberal government paid $31-million to the English Catholic teachers’ union as part of a settlement for delaying salary raises – the latest payout to education workers after the province took more control over bargaining.

The settlement – the result of a favourable arbitration ruling for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) – has raised the ire of other unions, who say it is politically motivated. Teachers have been key members of the Liberals’ political base and the party has taken several measures to buy labour peace during a coming election.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, described the settlement on Friday as a “a dirty deal that clearly wasn’t done dirt cheap at $31-million.”

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The dispute with OECTA centres on the timing of salary increases. Pay raises usually take effect at the start of the school year for the first 10 years of a teacher’s career, and the government extended a contentious 2012 deal to delay raises in the 2014-15 school year.

An arbitrator found that the decision to extend the delay was illegal in the 2014-15 school year, but left it up to both sides to determine a remedy. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government settled with OECTA last month – just ahead of the provincial election – giving qualifying teachers a one-time payment of $2,000, according to a memo sent to members, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Liz Stuart, president of the OECTA, said about 40 per cent of the union’s members qualify for the payout.

The settlement with OECTA comes as the government negotiates remedies with other education unions after a court ruled that the province violated teachers’ Charter rights in 2012 by imposing contracts on education workers and suspending their right to strike.

OECTA was not party to the court challenge because it signed off on a deal and the bill was imposed on other unions.

Sam Hammond, president of Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, called the payment to OECTA “outrageous.”

“Is this a way for the Liberals to reward their political allies and retaliate against ETFO and others for successfully challenging the government’s violation of our Charter rights?” he asked.

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The settlement, after the arbitration ruling with OECTA, has raised questions about how the government treated one union over others in negotiations. OECTA was allowed to carry on with its grievance, but ETFO wasn’t when it signed a new contract.

The Ministry of Education said in an e-mail that “the parties at the bargaining table had different priorities in their negotiations and therefore arrived at different agreements.” It confirmed that cost of the settlement was $31-million.

Mr. Bischof said he had no objection to OECTA pursuing the interests of its members. But he questioned the government’s motives, saying there was “an agenda” at play.

“To me this was a clear way of opening a path to providing this kind of money to OECTA who clearly couldn’t be part of a Charter challenge.”

Under former premier Dalton McGuinty, the government imposed contracts on teachers to save $2-billion. But since then, there have been multiple payouts. The Liberals paid three teachers’ unions $2.5-million to support them with bargaining costs under a new system where talks around big monetary items were centralized.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and several other unions have reached a remedy with the government in response to the court’s ruling on Bill 115. The ETFO has indicated it will be returning to court.

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