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Elementary teachers prepare for first phase of work-to-rule

Grade school teachers are set to begin a work-to-rule campaign as early as next week as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) steps up its fight against the Ontario government.

But these actions set to begin by November 26 won’t affect student learning, said Greg Weiler, president of ETFO Waterloo Region.

“Parents shouldn’t be concerned at this stage that this will impact students,” said Weiler. “It’s very purposeful that it’s an administrative work-to-rule to put pressure on school boards.”

The ETFO will withdraw ministry and school board administrative tasks, such as filling out report cards, the attendance of staff/division/grade meetings, and any EQAO-related activities.

This could be subject to change if the teachers union and province come to an agreement before that date.

“I would say the goal is still to have the talks progress at the table. It’s just that at this point, that hasn’t happened, there hasn’t been any meaningful response from the government or the school boards to any of the issues,” said Weiler. “Things could change before November 26, but if nothing changed, job action would begin at that point.”

The union said that the government has refused to talk about any of their critical issues in bargaining, including financial support for students with special needs and special education teachers, the province’s kindergarten program model, class sizes, and fair hiring practices.

Ontario’s public elementary school teachers voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action in early November.

“The fact that we had the strike vote earlier on, as opposed to later, stems from the concern that members had that the government seemed to have been taking this approach all along of … sort of doing things, and then consulting on them afterwards, so to speak. We saw that with the phys. ed curriculum, with the autism therapy,” said Weiler.

“They come out with something, they implement it, and then when it goes wrong or is a problem, then they back up or undo it. No one wants to go through that process.”

The ETFO Waterloo Region has reached out to several local Conservative MPPs in the region with limited success, including Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, Kitchener South Hespeler MPP Amy Fee, and Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios (the sole MPP who did not respond).

“From day-one, the government’s goal has been to reach negotiated settlements with our education partners. As Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has affirmed, the government’s negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good-faith bargaining 24/7 to reach the deals that Ontario students and families deserve,” said Harris in an emailed statement.

The statement from the local level mirrors that of Lecce, who called for a third party mediator amidst the ongoing labour negotiations on November 18.

“Today, I am offering all education sector unions the option to enter into mediation,” said Lecce. “I believe this is the right step, as mediation involves an independent third party to assist the unions, trustee associations, and the government in reaching settlements. I am asking all our partners to accept this offer so together we can reach deals that keep our kids in class.”

ETFO president Sam Hammond said that the offer was already a reality, as the conciliation officer appointed by the Ministry of Labour was already acting in the role of mediator.

This would the first phase of the work-to-rule action, and “there’s no timeline obviously for things to escalate or to stop,” said Weiler.

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