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Province, secondary school teachers find common ground

Icy relations between the province and high school teachers thawed a little in the last week, with both sides reaching a tentative agreement on working conditions.

In a statement sent to school boards on March 31, Education Minister Liz Sandals said the government and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) were able to resolve “implementation concerns” regarding key issues such as sick leave, maternity leave, retirement gratuity, unpaid days, and local bargaining.

“Over the past number of weeks, we have been having positive, collaborative discussions with our education partners. Those discussions have been critical to rebuilding important relationships inside and outside of our schools and have already delivered results for students, parents, teachers and support staff, with the gradual return of extracurricular activities at both elementary and secondary schools,” she said.

The union is currently sharing the information with its members. Until the procedure is complete both parties have agreed to a media blackout that prevents both the union and the government from commenting further pending formal ratification.

The OSSTF stated that comments may only be issued after the union has completed the process.

OSSTF Waterloo District president Rob Gascho estimates the process will take two to three weeks, though a specific date for the final vote has not been set.

“There is a meeting of presidents on Thursday, when the agreement will be outlined. After that, they will be scheduling meetings in their home districts where the details will be conveyed to members. At some point after that, there will be a province-wide vote by members. Once that vote has been taken, the details could be released,” he said.

Waterloo Region District School Board representative Abigail Dancey said board members are not aware of the agreement’s details yet and it’s too early in the game to take a position. The WRDSB will be monitoring the fragile truce as talks continue during the next two weeks.

“We just feel it’s a little premature for us to say anything.”

Teachers began protesting the provincial government’s implementation of Bill 115 at the start of the school year. The legislation implemented by former premier Dalton McGuinty imposed pay freezes, ended the banking of sick days and limited teachers’ ability to strike.

Both elementary and secondary school teachers stopped extracurricular activities such as organized sports, afterschool clubs and offering extra help outside of class.

After the appointment of new Premier Kathleen Wynne in January talks continued and as a gesture of goodwill the OSSTF encouraged its members to return to extracurriculars in February.

Talks are still continuing between the government and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). The Elementary school teachers union advised their members to return to voluntary activities earlier in March.

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