Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province’s education unions are holding parents “hostage” and insists his government won’t budge on a 1-per-cent cap on salary increases.
All teachers’ unions in the province are either on work to rule or staging one-day walkouts. Contract negotiations have stalled, and no further talks are scheduled.
Mr. Ford told reporters Thursday that his government is looking to strike a “fair deal” and is confident one can be reached – even as tensions escalate.
He singled out union leaders, saying they were preventing talks from progressing.
"I think they don’t have good leadership – the head of the unions. They want to argue no matter what premier, no matter what government is in power,” he said at an unrelated announcement at Queen’s Park.
“The head of the unions are holding the parents hostage,” he added.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), said Thursday that if Mr. Ford believes him to be the impediment in striking a deal, then the Premier should exercise his right to require union members to vote on what the government has put on the table. “If he doesn’t, then he should stop claiming that I’m the impediment,” Mr. Bischof said.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), responded via Twitter to the Premier’s comments: “Maybe [Mr.] Ford should focus on his leadership as Premier,” a reference to his low approval rating. A union spokeswoman said Mr. Hammond was in a meeting and unavailable for comment.
Asked if his government would rule out back-to-work legislation, Mr. Ford said, “We’ll see.
“That’s the last step. What we really want to do is, we want to get a deal.”
For the first time in more than two decades, the main education unions in the province are all involved in job actions at the same time.
The ETFO, the province’s largest education union, with 83,000 members, announced this week that it would start rotating strikes on Monday unless there is progress in contract talks with the government.
Public elementary schools in Toronto, York Region and Ottawa all plan to close their doors Monday. The union said Thursday that members at four boards – Superior Greenstone, Renfrew, Grand Erie and Trillium Lakelands – would be on the picket lines next Tuesday.
The union has been on work to rule, which includes not supervising extracurricular activities outside the regular school day and not participating in field trips.
Meanwhile, the OSSTF has said its members in Toronto and several smaller boards across Ontario would leave their classrooms empty Tuesday in their latest one-day rotating walkout.
They will be joined by teachers and education workers at all of Ontario’s English-language Catholic schools – both elementary and secondary.
In a move that he said was meant to help families cope, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced this week that parents will be able to apply for as much as $60 a day per child in compensation if strikes shut down their children’s elementary school or school-based daycare.
Alexandra Adamo, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lecce, said that as of Thursday evening, the government had received more than 51,000 applications for such compensation.
At issue are class-size increases, mandatory online courses for high-school students, wage hikes and other cost-saving measures.
Mr. Lecce has maintained that the main stumbling block in negotiations has been wages, with the unions asking for a 2-per-cent increase in the face of the government’s wage-cap legislation, meant to limit public-sector pay increases to 1 per cent.
Mr. Lecce said Thursday that he had instructed government negotiators to tell the mediator they are ready to hold new talks with the primary teachers’ unions, weeks after negotiations broke off and days away from a series of one-day walkouts. But whether negotiations start again is up to the mediator.
“We certainly stand ready to negotiate because we have an interest in getting deals,” Mr. Lecce told reporters as he headed to a cabinet meeting at Queen’s Park.
He said that while holding wage hikes to the government’s legislated 1-per-cent cap remained his objective, he reiterated that the government was prepared to look at any “innovative options” for “offsets” to save money that the union came up with.
Mr. Ford reiterated that message Thursday: “Make no mistake about it, this is about compensation. This is about the unions wanting to take $750-million more out of the pockets of taxpayers.”
Union leaders, however, have argued that their members are simply asking for cost-of-living increases in line with inflation.
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