BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is escalating its strike action as of this week. Starting Monday, January 13, public elementary school educators across the province will no longer supervise extra-curricular activities unless they are scheduled within the regular school day nor will they participate in field trips.
The union warns that if the government refuses to address critical issues in talks by Friday, ETFO members will commence rotating strikes next week, threatening a full withdrawal of services in selected School Board districts.
“In six months of contract talks, the Ford government’s education minister has given his negotiators no mandate to discuss anything other than cuts to education including a $150 million cut to public elementary education,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “That’s why there has been negligible progress on substantive issues like supports for Special Education, protecting the Kindergarten model, addressing classroom-based violence and compensation that keeps up with the cost of inflation.”
But Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce is railing against the union's latest move. In a statement released on January 11, the minister said, "Students across the province are being hurt by union-led escalation. The continued and escalating disruption to learning and educational support is detrimental to the student experience and causes frustration and uncertainty for parents. Parents and students have seen this type of job action every few years for decades. That is why we are calling on the teachers' unions to cease escalation, stop playing with students' futures, and focus on reaching a deal that keeps our students in the classroom where they belong."
Meanwhile, the ETFO President is not impressed with Lecce's stance. “This government’s approach to education sector contract talks is a sham. The government representatives have confirmed that they have no mandate to negotiate issues beyond cuts. They have met with ETFO for a very limited time on each of the 22 days of bargaining since August making it obvious that there is no intention or ability for them to address serious issues affecting the education of elementary students and educators," said Hammond.
This ongoing conflict ramps up at the same time as Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) members continue similar rotating job actions at selected Ontario secondary schools. In fact, this Wednesday, January 15 will see teachers walk off the job across the Bluewater School Board District for the second time this school year. It will be the fifth occasion that teachers have marked themselves absent en mass, since rotating strikes began last Fall.
In a statement issued on January 10, Lecce said, "For the fifth time, OSSTF union leaders have directed their members to not show up to class. These union leaders will forcefully advocate for the interests of their members - from higher wages to enhanced entitlements - however, they ought not oppose the academic aspirations of our students. Students should be in class. It is most concerning that teacher unions' leaders disagree and continue to impede learning for the next generation. Our government is focused on landing deals that keep students in class so that we end the frustrating experience families face due to predictable union escalation. This continued strike action is unfair to students and their families."
The OSSTF claims that Lecce is making public announcements that misrepresent what his team is doing at the bargaining table. "The disconnect is so great that we’re left shaking our heads. Minister Lecce claims in public that there will be no changes to the Kindergarten model, but refuses to make that commitment during bargaining. The Minister claims salary is the main sticking point in bargaining, yet it’s been a topic that has received hardly any discussion over months of bargaining," said an OSSTF statement.
No new talks between the government and either of these teachers unions are scheduled.
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