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Education Ontario teachers’ union head expects ‘improvements’ as bargaining set to begin

The head of Ontario's high school teachers' union has a strong message for Premier Kathleen Wynne as a new round of contract negotiations begins.

"We expect real improvements in this round of bargaining," Paul Elliott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said Thursday at a conference for local leaders in Toronto.

His words come a day after Ms. Wynne stressed to a room full of elementary teachers that there would be no new money for salary increases because the province faces a $12.5-billion deficit.

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The Liberal government's central task is to get public-sector unions, including teachers, to temper their expectations on salary increases. But educators are still reeling over lost wages through unpaid days in their most recent contract, less than two years ago, when the Liberals under Ms. Wynne's predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, imposed Bill 115. The legislation infringed on their collective bargaining rights and restricted their ability to strike. Teachers stopped leading extracurricular activities in protest, and staged walkouts.

Teacher contracts expire at the end of this month.

Mr. Elliott said his bargaining team met with the government and school boards on Wednesday. More bargaining meetings are scheduled for September, and OSSTF will hold strike votes by Thanksgiving.

"What has become clear is that there will be bumps in the road," he said, referring to a new process that has three parties – teacher unions, school boards and the government – at a central table.

All sides have publicly stated that the bargaining will be more respectful than in the previous round.

Under Ms. Wynne, the Liberals entrenched a new bargaining process, Bill 122, for teachers before the election was called.

Bill 122 defines how the bargaining process will work: Big monetary issues, such as salaries and benefits, will be negotiated centrally by the government, provincial unions and school board associations; bargaining on local issues, such as teachers' workload, access to technology and training, would take place between individual school boards and their unions.

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Although the Liberals have said they want unions to accept pay freezes, Education Minister Liz Sandals recently told reporters that if all sides can find savings within the education budget, teachers and support workers could see a bump in pay.

Mr. Elliott told reporters that "real improvements" could impact wages, benefits or workload issues. He said OSSTF, which includes teachers and education support workers, have been preparing for bargaining for over a year now.

"We want to move towards a fair deal. We're not looking for disruption," he told reporters. "And as long as all parties want to move towards a fair deal, I think we can find some movement to get there."

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