Thousands of Ontario public high school teachers are poised to walk off the job for one day on Wednesday after days of contract talks between their union and the provincial government failed to produce an agreement.
Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) walked away from the bargaining table at midnight.
“Sadly, the [government’s] bargaining team chose not to meet with us in the days leading up to our strike deadline. Our one-day job action will occur,” Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), tweeted. “#OSSTF education workers & teachers will be back in schools Thursday, we remain ready to negotiate.”
Bischof, flanked by members of the OSSTF provincial executive during a news conference shortly before the deadline, said the government had not presented any new proposals in the past four days of bargaining at a downtown Toronto hotel.
Sadly, the <a href=”https://twitter.com/Sflecce?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Sflecce</a> bargaining team chose not to meet with us in the days leading up to our strike deadline. Our one-day job action will occur. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/OSSTF?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#OSSTF</a> education workers & teachers will be back in schools Thursday, we remain ready to negotiate. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/onted?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#onted</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/onpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#onpoli</a>
It is expected that the one-day strike will close many secondary schools across the province.
According to the union, the main issues in the labour dispute are government plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning courses. According to the government, the main issue is compensation.
Both sides held duelling news conferences on Tuesday evening, with the union and province accusing each other of being unreasonable.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the strike would be “needless escalation.”
“Our government has remained reasonable at the negotiating table, with the objective of keeping students in class,” Lecce told reporters.
The union, which represents 60,000 members, says it is fighting to reverse cuts to the province’s classrooms that it says are harming students’ ability to get a good quality public education. The teachers are already conducting a work-to-rule campaign.
Bischof said a one-day strike is “nothing” compared to the possible damage that could happen to the education system through these new government proposals.
But the minister says since the Ontario government first began bargaining the union has not made any “substantive moves” to reach a deal. He said the union is insisting on a $1.5-billion increase in pay and benefits.
“The onus is on OSSTF to be reasonable, stay at the table, and to cancel this needless escalation that is hurting children, parents, and families,” Lecce said.
All day on Tuesday, contract talks appeared to be at a standstill.
Earlier, Lecce had said his bargaining team had presented a new “framework” to negotiators for the OSSTF in an attempt to keep all parties at the table. But the union disputed that.
Ontario’s public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.
Some of the province’s largest school boards, including the Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board, west of Toronto, have said they will be forced to close their high schools if the job action takes place.
Boards where the OSSTF also represents education workers, such as the Waterloo Region District School Board and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, will close both high schools and elementary schools if a strike occurs.
Bischof said that he is sympathetic to parents who will be inconvenienced by the possible closure of some schools, but that the union is fighting government cuts that will impact the quality of education in the province.
“I can tell you that the long-term damage to the system, if we allow this government to continue to go down this destructive path, is far worse than a day lost to labour action,” he said earlier.
Lecce said the main issue in the talks is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.
In addition to public high school teachers, the OSSTF represents public high school teachers, occasional teachers, educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, early childhood educators, psychologists, secretaries, speech-language pathologists, social workers, plant support staff and university support staff.