BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — On Friday, February 21, elementary and secondary teachers and education workers represented by the four major education unions in Ontario participated in a one-day province-wide strike. In a statement issued on Friday, Liz Stuart, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), exclaimed, "Today’s historic strike was an incredible display of the passion and dedication of teachers and education workers across Ontario."
The OECTA continues to insist that their goal is to negotiate a deal at the bargaining table and as of today, both sides seem to doing just that. The mediator has called the parties back to the table to resume talks this week. The OECTA is optimistic that the discussions will continue to be meaningful. As a result, OECTA has suspended their schedule of rotating strikes planned for this week.
But Stuart also warned, "Should negotiations cease being productive, further strike action will be announced.”
Unfortunately, news from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) is not as rosy. The union will take part in another one-day, full withdrawal of services in selected locations across Ontario on Friday, February 28. This job-action will include Bluewater District schools in Grey County as well as over 30 Ontario english and french school board facilities. In addition, a limited withdrawal of services, which has been in place since November, will continue province-wide.
OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof has repeated the Federation’s standing offer to postpone pending job actions if the government agrees to return to, and maintain, the class size ratios and staffing levels that were in place in Ontario schools during the 2018–2019 school year.
“Doug Ford and his Minister of Education continue to claim that they are laser-focused on keeping students in class,” said OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof. “Yet, for more than two months now, they have simply ignored our repeated offer to do just that by postponing pending strike actions. Despite their hollow claims, the Premier and the Minister are focused on one thing only: their careless, dangerous agenda of larger classes, mandatory e-learning, and fewer supports for the most vulnerable students,” continued Bischof.
Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, issued the following statement in response to OSSTF's continued strike action:
"We want a deal that keeps students in class. Strikes by the teachers' unions have resulted in millions of student days lost. Days where students should have been in class preparing for math tests, practising for hockey games or music competitions, and learning the skills needed to succeed in their educational journey and beyond. While OSSTF demands a $1.5 billion increase in wages and benefits, we will advance the case for investment in our kids. I'd rather see us reduce classroom sizes or invest further in improving math performance, as opposed to spending over $600 million (sector-wide) on a hike to an already generous benefits plan. With over 80 cents to the dollar spent on compensation and over 60% increase in spending since 2003, taxpayers and parents rightfully expect more and better for our students. We agree."
Lecce concluded, "We have always been ready to meet at the negotiating table to reach a deal that keeps students in class".
With regard to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the union has said that a deal was within reach on Friday, February 14, after three days of central bargaining talks until the government abruptly changed its position at the eleventh hour.
“ETFO, school board associations and the government were close to an agreement that would have been good for students, educators and public education. It would have ensured stability in public elementary schools this week,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “Then, late that day, the government’s negotiators changed course and tabled impossible options they knew ETFO could not accept.” This prompted the union to join other teachers' unions in the province-wide strike last Friday.
“I want to set the record straight,” continued Hammond. “Unlike the Minister of Education, I was at the bargaining table last week so I know what was discussed. Despite what Minister Lecce is claiming, salary was not addressed during those negotiations, and government negotiators did not sign a letter of commitment to maintain the Kindergarten model. On Friday, the government’s position around special education funding remained less than half the priority and special education funding negotiated in 2017. This funding was of great benefit to vulnerable students.”
Hammond also insists, “An agreement was within reach on maintaining a long-standing regulation that ensures fair and transparent hiring processes for teachers. Government negotiators then introduced demands for major concessions around fair hiring. We have to question what the government’s motivation was when it abruptly changed its tactics at the last minute. Rather than ‘keep kids in the classroom’, which Education Minister Stephen Lecce says is his goal, this government is deliberately creating chaos in our education system,” added Hammond.
ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. They have yet to announce their next job-action.
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