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Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters teachers are taking more sick days because they lost the right to bank them for a cash payout upon retirement.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The heads of two teachers' unions are demanding that the Ontario Education Minister apologize for suggesting teachers are abusing their sick days plan.

Responding to a Globe and Mail story about a report that said sick days are increasing, Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters earlier this week that Ontario teachers 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.

Paul Elliott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, called Ms. Sandals's statements "provocative, presumptuous and completely unsubstantiated."

"Her comments demonstrated a lack of respect for the dedication displayed every day by Ontario's education workers," he said in a statement on Thursday. "We hope the Minister will learn to more carefully consider her public musings in the future."

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, also took issue with Ms. Sandals' words.

"Minister of Ed should publicly apologize to teachers in this prov for her unacceptable & unfounded comments," he said on Twitter.

The Globe obtained a copy of a report that found a "significant increase" in absences by teachers and education workers, costing school boards more than $921-million in 2014-15.

The report by the not-for-profit School Boards' Co-operative Inc. found that 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.

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, plus another $625-million in the next three years. However, school board sources say the new plan has led to increased sick-leave costs, and principals must fill more sick-day holes.

The SBCI report shows education workers are taking more sick days at full salary, leaving school boards to find money within their education budgets.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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