Teachers unions want apology from Minister of Education on sick days

ONTARIO—Local teacher union leaders are calling comments made by Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals concerning teachers and the number of sick days they take off irresponsible.

“Well, I think our president Paul Elliott has made appropriate comments in the Globe and Mail about the irresponsible comments made by the minister,” said James Clyke, District 3 president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), last Friday. “One of the things that is most troubling is that she obviously (Liz Sandals) doesn’t understand the difficult job that teachers and support staff have. For the past number of years this has gotten progressively worse in class and schools. A large part of the reason for this is the new initiatives that have been put in place by the province and school boards; this onslaught of initiatives is something that teachers have to implement in their classes.”

“In today’s world it is not uncommon in many agencies and organizations that employee mental health and stress issues are on the rise,” said Mr. Clyke.

“The minister does not have a full grasp on the challenges of the teaching profession and often teachers and support staff do not receive the supports they need,” said Mr. Clyke. “Often teachers are now left on their own by parents, students and administrators; this helps lead to more stress and more sick time.”

As reported in the March 31 edition of the Globe and Mail, 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 work days are increasing, Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters that Ontario teachers are taking more sick days because they lost out on the right to bank them for a cash payout upon retirement. Ms. Sandals was quoted in the Globe as saying, “there’s no reason to believe that they’re actually sicker that they were two years ago.”

Paul Elliott, president of the OSSTF said Ms. Sandals statements demonstrated a lack of respect for the dedication displayed day-to-day by Ontario’s education workers.

Barb Blasutti, head of the Rainbow District teachers’ local, said, “for the minister to say that teachers are abusing sick leave, this isn’t the case. She knows better than that, and locally, this is not borne out by data.”

“Teachers do take days off when they are sick,” said Ms. Blasutti, “so they won’t give their colds to students.”

“I agree with our president (Sam Hammond) that I’m hoping she apologizes for her statements. These comments are unfounded,” said Ms. Blasutti. “I used to work in the classroom, it is a different environment than most places, students that are sick and attending class can pass on their germs to everyone in the classroom. Teachers are exposed to more of this type of thing that the average employee.”

“If a teacher or education support staff worker is sick and they take time off, that is what they should be doing,” said Ms. Blasutti. “We hope the minister will more carefully consider her public musings in the future.”

Sam Hammond, president of the ETFO also took issue with Ms. Sandals words. “The minister of education should publicly apologize to teachers in this province for her unacceptable and unfounded comments,” he told the Globe and Mail on Twitter.

The Globe obtained a copy of a report that found a significant increase in absences by teachers and education workers in 2014-2015. 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 2014-2015, up from 8.86 days from years prior, before the sick day plan was changed.

In 2012 the Liberals imposed a contract on public school teachers that lessened 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 payment of up to $45,000 on retirement. 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 over the next three years. However, school board sources say the new plan has led to increased sick leave costs. The report also shows education workers are taking more sick day at full salary, leaving school boards to find money within their own budgets.