Ontario’s high-school teachers union has taken what it says is the unprecedented step of publicly releasing its opening contract proposals, while accusing the government of Premier Doug Ford of sabotaging negotiations.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the move was made necessary by the Ford government’s public insistence on its plan to increase average class sizes across the province and its threats to use legislation to cap public-sector wages.
“There’s no question, it’s time to shine a light on the negotiating process. The government claims that they are engaged in good faith bargaining, while engaging in the exact opposite," Mr. Bischof said.
"They have tried to sabotage and derail negotiations with delaying tactics” and legislation aimed at curbing wage hikes, he said.
Contracts for all of the province’s education unions expired at the end of August. Tensions over the government’s moves to increase class sizes and reduce teacher numbers, especially at the high-school level, have prompted fears of possible job action, which includes strikes.
Just hours before Mr. Bischof spoke on Tuesday, the union representing custodians, secretaries and other support workers at school boards across Ontario said it could begin a work-to-rule campaign next week.
The proposal that the high-school teachers union unveiled Tuesday would require almost a complete walking back of everything the Ford government has done to Ontario’s education system.
The proposal would see teacher-student ratios revert to those from last year, before the cuts, while a committee, with union and ministry representatives, would study the government’s controversial plans for mandatory online courses before it was implemented. Plus, wages and benefits would automatically rise with inflation, which is around 2 per cent. The government’s public-sector wage-cap bill would limit all increases to just 1 per cent. The union’s proposal would also grant teachers unpaid days off, with any savings put back into the school system.
Talks with Mr. Bischof’s union have barely got off the ground, with both sides blaming each other for delays. The OSSTF recently lost a challenge at the Ontario Labour Relations Board to try to have class sizes dealt with in sessions with individual school boards, rather than at the central provincewide level. Another similar challenge has been launched by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.
The OSSTF, the school boards association and the Ontario government are due to meet for talks on Monday. Mr. Bischof said he sent his union’s proposals to the government on Tuesday.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued an e-mail statement saying little about Mr. Bischof’s comments, or his move to make his proposals public. He also issued a statement urging the education support workers warning of a work-to-rule campaign to return to the bargaining table.
“I have stated consistently for months now, I want to reach a deal that provides predictability and certainty to students, parents and educators,” Mr. Lecce wrote. "My negotiating team will continue to meet with OSSTF – and all of our labour partners – with the singular mission of reaching a deal that keeps kids in the class.”
Mr. Bischof said the government’s class-size increase – to an average 28 from 22 in high schools over four years – means that one-in-four teaching jobs in the province will vanish. Science, technology and math teachers are retiring and not being replaced, he said, as some class sizes balloon to 30 or 40 students. Some senior students have seen courses they need for university or college cancelled, he said.
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