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Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters earlier this month that Ontario teachers and other education workers are taking more sick days because they lost the right to bank them for a cash payout upon retirement. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters earlier this month that Ontario teachers and other education workers are taking more sick days because they lost the right to bank them for a cash payout upon retirement. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Minister apologizes for comments about Ontario teachers’ sick days Add to ...

Ontario’s Education Minister has apologized to at least one teachers’ union for suggesting educators are abusing their sick days.

Responding to a Globe and Mail story about a report that said sick days are increasing, Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters earlier this month that Ontario teachers and other education workers are taking more sick days because they lost the right to bank them for a cash payout upon retirement.

“There’s no reason to believe that they’re actually sicker than they were two years ago,” Ms. Sandals said with a chuckle, according to a Canadian Press report.

Two teachers’ unions immediately demanded that Ms. Sandals apologize.

In a letter to members last week, Ann Hawkins, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, wrote that she spoke with Ms. Sandals. “The Minister acknowledged that her comments were insensitive, and she expressed to me her sincere regret,” Ms. Hawkins wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe. “The Minister also assured me that she does not believe teachers are abusing the sick-leave policy in any way.”

Further, the letter stated that Ms. Sandals believed the sick-day report to be misleading, even though she said her office has not been able to obtain a copy of the report and she has not seen it.

Ms. Hawkins was out of the country and unavailable for comment last week.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said in a statement that “Minister Sandals did call to discuss the issue.”

A spokeswoman for Ms. Sandals said the Minister and her staff have spoken with all the unions.

The Globe obtained a copy of a report by the not-for-profit School Boards’ Co-operative Inc. that found teachers and education workers took an average of 10.29 sick days in 2014-15, up from 8.86 days four years prior, and before the sick-day plan was changed – costing school boards more than $921-million in 2014-15.

In 2012, the Liberals imposed contracts on public-school teachers that cut their pay, sliced their annual sick days to 11 from 20 and stopped the practice of banking unused sick days. Previously, teachers could bank unused sick days for a cash payout of up to about $45,000 on retirement – about half the value of those days.

The Liberals removed the retirement liability from the government’s books, saying it resulted in $1-billion in one-time savings and another $625-million in the next three years.

However, school-board sources say the new plan has led to increased sick-leave costs, money they have to find within their education budgets, and principals must fill more sick-day holes.

The SBCI report is based on data from 55 school boards, and looked at sick days before the changes and in the three years since the new sick-leave plan was implemented. The study did not include the cost of sick days prior to the new plan.

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