TORONTO -- The union representing Ontario’s secondary school teachers has suspended all labour action indefinitely amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has shuttered schools across the province and raised questions about when they will even be allowed to reopen.

In a statement issued on Wednesday morning, OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said that the suspension will bring an end to both rotating strikes and a work-to-rule campaign that began in November.

The decision to suspend all labour action, he said, came after union leaders contacted the Ministry of Education to offer their “full cooperation and support in any efforts that will help to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

“Our administrative sanctions have always targeted the government and the school boards, with virtually no impact on student learning. Under these extraordinary circumstances, however, 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,” he said. “At this time, I urge (Education) Minister (Stephen) 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.”

Stephen Lecce

The province previously ordered the closure of all schools from March 14 through April 5.

In his statement, Bischof said that while he is “enormously proud of the sustained campaign” his members have undertaken to “defend publicly-funded education,” it is now clear that they must turn their “full attention to the immediate crisis at hand.”

As part of that, he said that it was important to ensure that administrative actions do not “hinder measures to counter the pandemic.”

So far, the government has not provided any information about what may happen should schools be unable to reopen on April 5, as currently scheduled.