What are the key issues in the Ontario teachers’ disputes?

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TORONTO — Ontario teachers have been without a contract since Aug. 31 and months of negotiations have yielded little progress. Bargaining is now at a standstill between the government and all four major teachers’ unions. So what are the key issues?

Compensation

Elementary and secondary teachers are largely focusing on different concerns, but compensation is one issue they have in common. Teachers are seeking salary increases of around two per cent a year, which they call a cost-of-living increase to keep pace with inflation. But the government is not budging beyond offering a one-per-cent increase per year. In fact, it has made that figure the law. Last year, the Progressive Conservative government passed legislation to cap increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The unions are challenging the law in court, arguing it violates collective bargaining rights by bypassing the negotiation process. The government maintains that with public sector salaries making up a substantial portion of government spending, it’s a necessary measure to tackle the provincial deficit. Giving all of the unions two per cent in salary — instead of one — and increases in benefits would cost $1.5 billion over three years, according to government figures.

Class sizes

The government announced last March it would increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 over four years. It was to be achieved largely through attrition, but according to calculations by the province’s financial watchdog, it would also mean 10,000 fewer teachers in the system. That also included an average class size increase of one student in Grades 4 to 8. This fall saw boards inch toward that 28-student target, with a provincewide class size average of 22.5. That has already led to schools being able to offer hundreds of fewer courses. The government has since partially backed down, setting a new average class size of 25. But the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says that’s not good enough. President Harvey Bischof has also said the government’s compromise comes with a “poison pill,” because the offer would also mean local class size limits are removed, essentially allowing the province to see the number of students per class climb indefinitely.

E-learning

As part of the same March announcement, the government said it would start requiring high school students to take four of their courses online in order to graduate. Educators and school boards alike raised concerns about students not having uniform access to technical resources and broadband infrastructure, also noting that e-learning is not an appropriate teaching method for all. Education Minister Stephen Lecce has since announced he would scale the e-learning requirement back to two courses, and that individual exemptions would be allowed. The teachers don’t want any online courses to be mandatory.

Full-day kindergarten

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has been looking for a guarantee that full-day kindergarten will be protected, after the previous education minister would only guarantee its future for another year. Lecce has publicly said he is committed to the current one-teacher, one-early childhood educator model, but ETFO president Sam Hammond has said government negotiators haven’t said the same thing at the bargaining table. During three recent days of talks with ETFO, Lecce said the government had put that commitment in writing. But Hammond said it was not language that could be included in a collective agreement, but was shared with the union in a letter away from the bargaining table.

Teacher hiring

A 2012 rule dictating seniority requirements for hiring supply teachers into permanent positions has come up during these negotiations. ETFO wants the regulation maintained, saying it establishes fair and transparent hiring practices, and without seniority rules nepotism and favouritism are hiring factors. ETFO has said the government wants to “gut” the rule. Lecce has not clearly said either way what he wants to see happen, but he has spoken publicly about the need for qualification and merit to trump seniority.

Special education funding

ETFO wants the restoration of a local priorities fund the then-Liberal government introduced in the 2017 collective agreement. That is something the government agreed to for the education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees — the only major education union to reach a deal so far. It will help restore jobs for education assistants working with students with special needs, clerical workers and custodians. ETFO wants its funding continued so special education staff can be hired, but the union says the government is offering 40 per cent of what was in the last deal.

(The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, as well as the union representing teachers in the French system, have members at both the elementary and secondary levels and have expressed concerns about many of those issues.)

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

20 COMMENTS

  1. I refuse to support this. I’m sorry but not getting a raise is not a form of cuts. Try having hours reduced,that’s a cut! and trying to do the same work because that’s what PSW have to go through. But we can’t strike, or refuse care. We still have to do our job, and so should you!

    • Tammy Cote You are misinformed. There have been staff cuts and the government is planning on cutting even more. They are also cutting funding for special education which means fewer EAs and other professionals when we already don’t have enough.

    • How about you sit and talk to a teacher and listen to what they have to say. My girlfriend opened my eyes big time. You try reaching in today’s society. The kids are not easy these days thanks to all the soft society bullshit for one. Big classroom sizes with not enough help etc. If the government is making it harder for them to do their jobs then they deserve a raise. I’m sure if it was you , you would feel the same way. Fighting for the kids education to be better managed is ok in my eyes. Just my opion

    • Vicky Evans how come if it’s about the kids they don’t take away from the kids? Is the school year extending into the summer I don’t think so lol. The right thing to do regardless of what side you fall on would be do it in the summer … but that’s their time off too…. so whose it really about

  2. Have any of you been in a classroom lately. Some special need children are in diapers, some need help in using toilet, some need to be fed. Many have mobility issues. Try being one or two pair of helping hands along with teaching class. All kids need to be educated despite their abilities. It’s their right.

    • You are absolutely right everyone has a right to an education and I also have a right to have a say in how MY tax dollars are being spent. It doesn’t matter if it is only 5 bucks it is my 5 bucks.

  3. In the past 10 years:
    100,000 fewer students.
    Yet we hired 10,000 more teachers? That doesn’t make sense.
    On top of that, with such a huge decline in student enrollment education spending still
    increased by $6 BILLION
    Of that spending 91% went to teacher’s wages.
    That is a major reason why Ontario is nearly broke.
    Many other public & private sector jobs saw wage freezes but teachers didn’t. Now it’s their turn.
    Some time or another, the piper must be paid.
    For e-courses we’re not even talking about a vast amount, it’s literally a few courses over the entire student’s secondary school career.
    Home schooled children are actually achieving better standardized test results AND achieving better first year post-secondary results compared to school educated children. That speaks volumes about the Ontario curriculum and the quality of teaching.

    • @Johnny Wadd – I agree, however it was the teachers who created that mess. There’s a finite budget and the vast majority of it goes to the teachers who are regularly asking for more.
      If it’s truly “about the children” and they really do truly care about the children’s education and they’re truly overworked. then logically it would make sense to take that increase off the table and instead have it put back into the budget for the EA’s, support staff, etc. That would significantly help the teachers’ workload.
      But then again, many (if not most ) of us don’t buy into that “it’s for the children” narrative.

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