The Ontario government has promised its public elementary schoolteachers a roughly 2-per-cent salary hike, and won't rule out further wage increases in the next round of bargaining.
In announcing a tentative deal Thursday with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the province said it would eliminate a wage gap between public elementary schoolteachers and their Catholic and French counterparts. ETFO was penalized back in 2008 after a standoff with then-education minister and now Premier Kathleen Wynne.
The salary increase would take effect in September, 2014, after the current contract expires, and will cost the treasury $112-million every year. Education Minister Liz Sandals also left the door open to further pay increases, stressing that this deal only represents an agreement on the wage parity issue, and that no other parameters have been set for future contract negotiations.
"We have actually not said anything about what we would offer everybody in the next round of collective bargaining," she told reporters. "What we have said is there has been a discrepancy in the funding for public elementary teachers."
ETFO is the last teachers' union to settle the current two-year contract that ends August, 2014, although the deal has to be ratified by its 76,000 members in the days ahead.
The 2-per-cent wage gap has long been a sticking point. ETFO lost it in the 2008 round of bargaining because it failed to meet a deadline for accepting a contract offer. In a last-ditch effort to save the school year, Ms. Wynne put out a revised, non-negotiable offer – 10.4 per cent over four years – which was grudgingly accepted.
Ms. Sandals said the government's change of heart on the issue is a matter of fairness, saying elementary teachers should not be punished because their union negotiated them an inferior deal several years ago. "It's not about did the unions have good tactics or bad tactics. It's about the individual teacher," she said. "Now, when we look at this, and we look at a public policy point of view going forward: Why would we pay Catholic and French teachers more than public teachers?"
Sam Hammond, ETFO's president, said he is confident his members will ratify the deal because the government has resolved the wage issue and reversed a "substantial inequity."
The Progressive Conservatives, however, criticized the deal as a purely political move on the part of the Liberals, who have depended on support from teachers to help win elections in the past. Education critic Lisa MacLeod slammed the government for giving teachers a pay bump in what should be a time of austerity.
School boards have largely been left out of negotiations. "The deal reflects agreements that the school boards would not have agreed to, that are not necessarily conducive for student achievement and represents a negotiating methodology that drives towards labour peace at the expense of good governance," said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.
ETFO's high-school counterparts voted in favour of negotiated agreements with the province this year that, among other items, promised a better payout for younger teachers who lost their banked sick days when the government imposed the terms of their contracts.
Teachers began political protests last September when the Liberal government introduced Bill 115, which dictated the terms of their contracts. Teachers stopped voluntary activities such as leading clubs or sports teams and offering extra help after school.
The Ontario Liberals chose a new leader in January, and talks between both unions and the government resumed under Ms. Wynne.