ETFO reaches tentative deal with province

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OSSTF to pause job action indefinitely due to COVID-19

QUEEN’S PARK – The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the government of Ontario announced late Friday, March 20 that they had reached a tentative contract agreement which, if ratified, would put an end to the strikes impacting Manitoulin Island’s elementary schools.

This has been a very prolonged and difficult bargaining process,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond. “We are very grateful for the support and unwavering solidarity of our members, and the public who have continued to stand up for public education and the supports that our students and educators need now and in the future.”

ETFO has come to terms with Ontario, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the Council of Trustees’ Associations. The details will not be made public before union members get to vote on the proposed agreement.

“This tentative ETFO agreement builds further momentum for deals and progress that students deserve, following last week’s tentative agreement signed with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA). We remain focused on landing further deals, to provide stability and certainty to students, parents and educators,” said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a press release.

“This is a good deal, and the time is now to build momentum to get further deals to end this process, so that we can remain as a community and a society and a government squarely focused on what matters which is keeping your child safe and building the best education system in the country,” he added in a Twitter video.

All strike action has been paused pending the vote. Although the union’s provincial executive has approved the agreement in principle, the 83,000 teachers represented by the union will have the final say.

Some of the key issues in this labour dispute have been the union’s desire to maintain the current Kindergarten model, address issues of violence in classrooms, changes to hiring policy, maintain special needs funding and class sizes. 

If the central agreement is ratified, that does not necessarily mean an end to the job disruptions. Ontario’s education system works on a two-tier model with a central contract covering the big, universal issues and 76 local units that bargain for their own contracts with their respective school board or boards. The local contracts generally pertain to issues that affect schools in unique ways based on their region. 

Even if the ETFO central contract is ratified, though, school will not return to business as usual for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has mandated the closure of schools for at least two weeks following March Break. 

As a result of the measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) announced on March 18 that it would indefinitely suspend all job action while negotiations are ongoing.

“Today, out of an abundance of caution, and to avoid any potential for miscommunication, we are immediately suspending all strike sanctions indefinitely,” stated OSSTF president Harvey Bischof in a news release. “We want to ensure that there are no impediments to the efforts of our members to assist school boards or the government in fighting the spread of COVID-19.  At this time, I urge Minister Lecce to consult with OSSTF/FEESO, the voice of front-line workers, before making or implementing further plans for the education systems in which our members work.”

The president continued that the union was proud of the efforts its members have undertaken during the bargaining process. 

Minister Lecce said the tentative ETFO deal would have positive impacts that were especially significant amidst the COVID-19 control measures. 

“This is good for students, of course for educators, but for parents especially who wanted some stability at a time of increasing volatility around us at home and abroad,” he said.