'We are disappointedly far from reaching a deal': Ontario teachers begin work-to-rule campaigns
TORONTO -- Thousands of Ontario teachers are launching job action in public elementary and secondary schools today, as unions try to apply pressure on the Progressive Conservative government amid tense contract negotiations.
The twin work-to-rule campaigns are not expected to have an impact inside the classroom, but parents and students will likely be drawn into the unions’ ongoing dispute with the government with “information pickets” outside some schools.
Public elementary teachers will begin each day by meeting outside the main school entrance and walking in together, 15 minutes before the morning school bell, according to the union.
Teachers will then stop participating in EQAO testing, won’t take the government’s new math proficiency test and won’t attend meetings outside the school day.
“We’ve been very careful not to affect students learning conditions or the environment during this phase one,” Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond said on Monday.
Meanwhile, at public high schools in the province, teachers will hand out flyers to parents explaining the job action and highlighting the government’s policies on education, which teachers are rallying against.
Educators will stop attending “unpaid” after-school staff meetings, won’t participate in professional development led by the ministry of education and stop taking part in EQAO testing.
“Students won’t notice any changes whatsoever,” Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation President Harvey Bischof promised.
The promises are being backed up by the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA), which is also in negotiations with the teachers’ unions.
“What’s happening is mostly administrative so (students) shouldn't feel any impact for the foreseeable future,” OPSBA President Cathy Abraham said.
The work-to-rule campaign will also affect student report cards as teachers largely leave it up to administrators to fill out, only providing basic information such as grades and brief remarks on student performance.
The OPBSA, however, said students should contact school officials if they feel job action is having an effect on their education.
“If they have concerns about what’s happening in their own schools, please talk to their principals about it.”
Both OSSTF and ETFO will meet with government negotiators at least two more times this week, but unions leaders are signaling that talks may not be heading in the right direction.
“We are disappointedly far from reaching a deal,” Bischof said, adding that class sizes, teaching positions and teacher salaries are still sticking points at the negotiating table.
Those sentiments are being echoed by Hammond who suggested on Monday that if the stalemate at the bargaining table isn’t broken in a few weeks, teachers may have to escalate their job action.
“We’ll have to start looking at where this is headed,” Hammond said when asked if teachers will walk off the job.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce stressed that the government has been making concessions at the bargaining table especially on class sizes and e-learning.
Lecce rejects the notion that his government should carry any of the blame for contract talks going off the rails.
“That would be true if we didn’t make moves, significant moves at the table,” Lecce told reporters Monday.
“We’ve made those moves every single day, week over week and even the days we’ve introduced those measures have been the days that unions have opted to escalate.”