Ontario to give up to $60 a day to parents affected by ongoing school strikes
TORONTO -- The Ontario government has announced a subsidy of up to $60 per day on the heels of another teachers’ union planning to participate in a one-day strike Monday, affecting elementary schools in Toronto, York Region and Ottawa.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said Wednesday that it gave the required five-day notice regarding the strike, which will go ahead Jan. 20 unless a deal is reached with the provincial government by Friday.
Hours later, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the government’s plan to offset the cost for childcare for parents whose children will be affected by all ongoing strikes. All of Ontario's major teachers' unions have launched job actions due to a lack of progress in talks with the government.
Families with children who are six years old and younger who attend a school-based child care centre will get $60 a day. Students in Kindergarten will get $40 per day, students in Grade 1 up to Grade 7 will get $25 per day, and students with special needs up to the age of 21 will get $40 per day.
“While teacher unions are creating hardships for students and families, our government is taking proactive steps to ensure students remain cared for and families supported,” Lecce said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
“Our government is launching its support for parents that puts more money into the pockets of parents.”
Education minister trying to ‘bribe parents’
Speaking after Lecce’s announcement, ETFO's president Sam Hammond said the province has not set any dates for contract talks, and the union has no option but to escalate strike action.
Hammond said that the government is offering the subsidy to try to bribe parents to get their support in the “ongoing battle.”
“Rather than deciding to get to the table… negotiate things that are important to our members and parents and students in this province, what he decides to do is let this drag out and provide a subsidy for parents if and when they need that subsidy,” he said.
“How appalling that is, how insulting to parents in this province that he’s trying to transparently bribe them for support. “
Hammond said the union’s members are asking for smaller classrooms, more resources for students with special needs, protection of the Kindergarten program, and fair compensation for educators.
“The public education that our students need and deserve cannot be hijacked by a government whose only aim to date has been to make funding cuts,” Hammond said.
“What we and parents are fighting for today will have an impact on the education of generations of students to come.”
Program costs $48M per day if all teachers' unions strike
The minister said that if all teachers’ unions were to withdraw service for one day, the cost of the initiative would be up to $48 million per day.
Hammond called it “insane” that the government would invest so much into this program for one day, but not invest more into the education system.
“That money invested in education, rather than for one day of child care, will support students into the future,” he said. “Instead of doing that, put the $50 million into the system, get back to the table and agree to the proposals.”
Hammond said that if a deal is not reached, more strike action for next week is a “given.”
He said the union will announce Thursday if any strike will take place next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The funding will be retroactive, the minister said, which means that it will also cover costs already incurred due to the labour disruptions in 2019 and 2020.
“We would not be here today, if the teachers’ unions and their leadership did not decide to walk out on students on a weekly basis and this is now becoming more present and more common,” Lecce said. “It is in regret that I am even in this position today to make an announcement of this kind.”
Hammond said the only way to put pressure on the government is to withdraw services as part of a strike action.
All four major teachers’ unions launch job actions
The elementary teachers have staged an administrative work-to-rule campaign since November. On Monday, the union escalated the action by no longer supervising extra-curricular activities outside regular school hours, participating in field trips, or participating in assemblies, except to supervise students.
The legal strike action Monday will affect teachers, occasional teachers, designated early childhood educators, professional support personnel and education support personnel locals.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which represents high school teachers and educators in the province, will hold its sixth strike Tuesday.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association announced this week that it is also planning a one-day strike for Tuesday after negotiations with the government broke off last week.
The association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens, the French teachers’ union in Ontario, also announced this week that it started phase one of its work-to-rule campaign.