ETFO and province resume negotiations

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OSSTF pauses withdrawals through March

ONTARIO – Signs of progress have emerged in the negotiations stalemate between the Ontario government and the four public teachers’ unions, with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) putting a hold on its job action in anticipation of central negotiations today, Wednesday, March 11, while the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) has also announced the suspension of its own withdrawals of service until March 27.

ETFO had a media conference scheduled for Monday at which it was expected to announce its next round of rotating strike action, set to begin on March 23. Just before the start of that conference, the mediator contacted the union to call for a resumption of negotiations on the coming Wednesday.

“The minister now has an opportunity to avoid further disruption by reaching a fair deal with ETFO prior to March 23. If these talks are unsuccessful, ETFO will resume rotating strike action on the Monday following March break,” said ETFO first vice president Karen Campbell.

The province announced some softening on its positions last week, though these are mainly aimed at the secondary school level. On Tuesday, March 3, Ontario released a statement outlining its plans to move class size average maximums in secondary schools to 23, up from the current 22 but not as high as the originally proposed 28.

It also stated it would replace the Local Priorities Fund with a new Supports for Students Fund, maintained at the current level of the Local Priorities Fund ($148 million), allowing school boards to use the cash to address individual learning needs such as special education, mental health and STEM education.

The province committed to maintaining the full-day Kindergarten model and offering “reasonable increases in wages and compensation,” which likely refers to the one percent pay increase it has held to despite the unions calling for a two percent hike.

Ontario also said it would be implementing policies to allow parents to opt-out their children from mandatory online courses. This is notable for rural places such as Manitoulin Island which has poorer internet infrastructure, which could form a significant barrier to the effective implementation of these programs. The province will still be moving forward on building its online education service.

“If the unions reject this most recent student-centric offer, parents should rightly be asking what exactly are the priorities of the unions,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a statement.

As of this past Monday, March 9, OSSTF announced it would be expanding its limited withdrawal of administrative services in schools and worksites, which has been in effect since November 26.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof dismissed Mr. Lecce’s proposal of 23-student classes as “vague” and not helping what he called the problem of overcrowded classrooms and disappearing courses.

To recap, OSSTF’s job action means its members will not take part in EQAO, not complete ministry reports, not take part in professional development, not take part in many types of meetings, only provide marks and learning skills on report cards, not take part in curriculum or course writing or any part of school or board improvement plans, and a long list of other duties as listed on the OSSTF website.

Phase seven of ETFO job action was set to come into place this past Monday, March 9. It moves to a crowdsourced approach to the protest which involves teachers picketing outside of their workplace for a minimum of 20 minutes at least one day per week, and also asking parents to join them in their efforts, either on the picket lines or by staging a walk-in rally, by calling a Progressive Conservative MPP to discuss education, sending a form letter and creating dialogue on social media.

“Educators and parents want fair agreements that value each and every elementary student, respect educators and support our schools appropriately,” said Ms. Campbell.

Mr. Lecce said his proposals last week reflect the province’s commitment to keeping students in the classroom and investing in their potential.

“This is a balanced plan that reflects the priorities of students and parents, maintaining class sizes, investing in students’ unique learning needs and holds the line on the reasonable increase in wages and compensation we are offering,” he said in a statement.

ETFO will continue its phase seven strike protocol during the discussion period.