OSSTF says decision to return to after-school activities will be voluntary
Ontario public high school students can expect extracurricular activities to return after the union representing the province’s secondary school teachers voted to suspend the boycott, but there is no guarantee all after-class sports and clubs will return.
A “significant” portion of the Ontario Secondary Teachers’ Federation are upset, president Ken Coran told reporters at a news conference Monday morning. He stressed that the decision to return to extracurricular activities will be an individual one.
“We respect our individual members’ decision and will protect them on a go forward basis,” Coran said.
He estimated that 20 per cent of teachers will likely never return to volunteering for after-school clubs and teams, while another 20 per cent didn’t support the boycott of extracurriculars in the first place.
Coran said approximately 60 per cent of its members are waiting for “concrete” and “tangible” results from discussions with the province before deciding to return to after-school activities.
“A new leader of the Liberal party was selected. We have a new premier, we have a new cabinet. We have seen a shift to the way business used to be done,” said Coran, who was first elected as president in 2007. “There is a willingness on the government’s part to collaborate, to re-engage in a collective bargaining process that is understood, that is fair and that is transparent.”
Late last year, many of Ontario’s public school teachers had stopped participating in after-school activities in protest of Bill 115, a controversial law under which the governing Liberals imposed new two-year contracts on more than 126,000 public educators.
Coran, who characterized the bill as “dictatorial” said he is hopeful the newly-minted Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government will respect the democratic rights of the union’s members.
“We want the new government to show us that there will be fairness,” Coran said.
Last Friday, the OSSTF agreed to “suspend political action regarding voluntary activities.”
Just minutes after the union released its decision, Wynne released a statement saying “I’m so glad that teachers, support staff and students will once again enjoy the extracurricular activities and program that mean so much to them.”
Later at a news conference at Queen’s Park, Wynne, whose recent election to replace Dalton McGuinty has appeared to improve relations with the OSSTF and the Liberals, said the government did not promise any concessions in order to end the protest.
The Progressive Conservatives raised the issue again at Queen’s Park Monday, with education critic Lisa MacLeod alleging a secret deal between the Liberals and teachers to get them back to after-school programs.
“I think that there must have been a secret deal behind closed doors," MacLeod said. "We don't know what happened in those negotiations."
Wynne denied offering teachers any goodies, saying the opposition should be glad to see the return of extracurriculars.
“We’ve gotten to the point where OSSTF is working with its members now and I have a huge amount of faith that a lot of, the majority of extracurricular activities are going to be available,” Wynne said Monday in the Legislature.
Coran said discussions between the OSSTF and the Ontario government to establish a framework for future negotiations are expected to begin as early as this week. He specifically pointed to the Wynne administration’s “commitment to developing a long-range collective bargaining process” that would be guaranteed in new legislation.
“We understand the fiscal realities that the premier has stated,” he said, adding that union suggested cost-cutting measures to the government early on in the negotiation process.
“What (teachers) want, and what the government said it would do, is to make sure democratic rights are never again violated.”
Teacher Michael Arkin is among those who will wait to see what future negotiations bring before deciding whether to return to extracurricular activities.
“A promise of collective bargaining in the future isn’t worth anything because the government has already shown us that they’re willing to abrogate our rights,” he told CTV Toronto.
Meanwhile, negotiations over extracurricular activities with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario are expected to resume on Wednesday.
With reports from CTV Toronto’s Naomi Parness and Paul Bliss
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