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Toronto In continued pre-election bid for peace, Wynne strikes deal with teachers' union

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne has offered the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association wage hikes and money for professional development and supplies.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

In a bid to buy a degree of labour peace during an upcoming election, Ontario's Liberal government has eased its austerity agenda and offered at least one teachers' union wage hikes and money for professional development and supplies.

A tentative deal with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) to extend the current contract, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, shows that educators would receive a 4-per-cent wage hike over the next two years. Additionally, teachers would receive a lump sum payment of 0.5 per cent for expenses related to professional development or supplies.

That increase is more than the current contract, where all education workers in the province received a 1.5-per-cent raise and 1-per-cent lump-sum payment over a three-year contract.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne's government has recently announced tentative deals with a number of education unions, including OECTA. If the deals are ratified, Ms. Wynne, who is in the fight of her life to win voter trust, won't have to contend with labour disputes in schools during the provincial election, expected in the spring of 2018.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter declined to comment on the government loosening its purse strings to education workers.

"As discussions are ongoing with other unions and the tentative agreements have not been ratified or approved, we are unable to provide specifics at this time," she said in a statement.

OECTA declined comment, saying the agreement was confidential and pending a ratification vote.

It is believed that other education unions have agreed to similar wage increases. Only the province's public high-school teachers' union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), has not reached an agreement with the government.

Part of the tentative deal with OECTA is that local agreements remain as is for the length of the extended contract. The Liberals put a two-step system in place to negotiate contracts. Larger matters such as salaries are negotiated between the government and central unions, while smaller issues are settled between individual school boards and union locals.

OECTA's ratification vote is expected in early March.

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The tentative agreement allows for a two-year extension to the current contract, which expires in August. Even a one-year extension would have given the Liberals labour peace during an election.

Only after The Globe revealed in September that the government was in discussions to extend the contract with the OSSTF did the Liberals confirm they had offered extensions to all unions that were part of a lawsuit against the province over Bill 115, a 2012 piece of legislation that imposed contracts on education workers and suspended their right to strike. The OSSTF, ETFO and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, among others, won a court ruling last year deeming Bill 115 unconstitutional.

The unions were discussing compensation with the province; the contract extension was an option the government put on the table.

The current agreement ended a tough series of negotiations with all education-worker unions, during which the OSSTF held strikes at school boards in the Toronto area and in Northern Ontario, and the government legislated teachers back to work.

Wrestling a deficit, the province insisted all labour deals be net zero, meaning something must be cut to offset the cost of raises.

But Ms. Wynne indicated last year that she was ready to loosen the purse strings for the next round of talks with public-sector unions.

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