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High school teachers reach tentative deal with province

With just weeks remaining before the new school year is set to begin, the union representing Ontario’s 60,000 public secondary school teachers has become the first organization to strike a tentative deal with the province.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) announced early Thursday morning that it had come to terms on a new deal, just two days after returning to the bargaining table.

Contracts expired with all of the major teachers unions last August, resulting in work-to-rule tactics and even strikes in a number of local school boards across the province.

The union representing English Catholic elementary school teachers joined the fray earlier this month, threatening job actions if a deal isn’t reached before the new school year begins on September 8.

But it has been a slow process all-around, with the Liberal government promising to reject any wage increase until it’s able to eliminate the budget deficit, expected to reach $11.9 billion this year.

“Negotiations were challenging for all sides, but it speaks to the dedication and commitment of everyone involved that collaboration prevailed and a tentative agreement was reached,” Education Minister Liz Sandals said Thursday morning. “The tentative agreement must now be ratified and details of the agreement will not be shared until that time.”

Now, the province will look to ink deals with public and Catholic elementary school teachers.

Speaking to reporters last week, Premier Kathleen Wynne said she was more “optimistic now than I was a few weeks ago (about a teacher settlement), but it is obviously going to be a hard few weeks as we work to make sure that kids are in school. It is my number one priority as we go into the fall.”

Members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) met in Toronto this week to elect a new executive. Sam Hammond remains as president, with Nathan Core and Greg Weiler serving as members from Waterloo Region.

Last spring, Weiler told The Observer the union is not looking for a pay hike.

But that assertion was contradicted by a statement from the Ontario Public School Boards Association, which went public in June with the teachers’ demands of a nine per cent raise over the first three years of a new deal.

Details of the tentative contract between the province and the OSSTF have not been made public, and the deal is subject to ratification by union members.

The ETFO announced Thursday its members would begin a “phase 2” work-to-rule strike action on the first work day of the 2015-2016 school year. While teachers will remain in class and participate in extracurricular activities, they will not participate in field trips, collect monies for school-related activities or participate in fundraising activities, collect or distribute to students any paperwork required by the school or school board or take part in parent-teacher interviews outside of school hours, among other measures.

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