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Education Minister Stephen Lecce, seen here on Oct. 28, 2019, called it 'regrettable' that the unions requested no-board reports.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s two largest teachers’ unions will be in a legal strike position later this month, with both saying the government has failed to address key issues in contract negotiations.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the largest education union in the province, with 83,000 members, said on Friday that its application for a no-board report – which basically starts a 17-day countdown – has been granted by a conciliator, meaning its members will be in a legal strike position as of Nov. 25.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represents 55,000 high-school teachers and support workers, received its no-board report last week. The union is conducting strike votes and, assuming it’s given a mandate to do so, will be in a legal strike position on Nov. 18.

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The heads of both unions have said no decision has been made on job action, which generally begins with work-to-rule, and the reason behind requesting a no-board report is to put pressure on the government and the school boards’ association to negotiate a deal.

“While ETFO is now in a legal position to take strike action in 17 days, we will continue to focus on contract talks in an attempt to arrive at a deal that improves student learning conditions and educator working conditions," ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement on Friday.

The threat of job action in Ontario’s public-school system comes as the province passed legislation on Thursday capping public-sector wage increases to 1 per cent a year. The unions say the legislation undermines the bargaining process and they are considering legal options.

Contracts for all education unions expired Aug. 31.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce called it “regrettable” that the unions requested no-board reports.

“I want to make sure the parties know that in good faith I want to continue to work with them, my negotiators with theirs, so that we can keep kids in class,” Mr. Lecce told reporters at an event in Vaughan, north of Toronto.

At issue are wages and a number of other items, including class sizes and more supports for students with special needs.

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Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF, said there’s been “no progress” in discussions with the government, but added that he has bargaining dates booked for next week.

Mr. Lecce recently softened the government’s stand on increasing class sizes in high schools to an average of 25 instead of the previous goal of 28 over four years. That’s still an increase over the current average of 22.5. But Mr. Bischof said the offer came with a condition to eliminate all local class-size caps, including those for some special-needs classes and workplace courses, at all school boards.

“The government has failed to respond to most of our substantive proposals,” which include online learning courses and staffing issues, Mr. Bischof said.

The union representing education support workers, including caretakers and educational assistants, recently ratified a three-year deal that would see salary increases of 1 per cent a year over three years.

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