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Strike action to close Catholic schools Tuesday

Province and elementary teachers unions resumed talks this week after hiatus

Catholic schools in the region will be shuttered again Tuesday (February 4) as the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has called for a one-day strike.

Meanwhile, the province and Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) this week resumed talks that had broken off. But most of the unions representing teachers in the province continue to carry out work-to-rule campaigns, a list that now include Franco-Ontarian teachers who are members of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), who stepped up their efforts as of this week.

Next week’s one-day strike by Catholic teachers is the second such walkout, teachers having taken to the picket lines January 21. The 45,000-member union remains at odds with the government on issues such as class sizes, kindergarten programming and course  availability to students. There’s been no progress to date, said OECTA president Liz Stuart.

Besieged Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has been issuing statements regularly, this week calling out OECTA members.

“Teacher union leaders have yet again demonstrated their disregard for parents in this province by directing their members to not show up to work. Union leaders are prepared to stand up for things like higher benefits for their members but appear unable to stand up for the basic expectation that students should learn each and every day,” he said in a release.

The province and the teachers’ unions remain at odds, with an appointed mediator at times calling off talks due to the gap between the two sides. The unions have accused Lecce of simply going through the motions. On January 29, however, the mediator, Denise Small, reached out to both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the negotiating parties for the Ontario government and school boards to resume negotiations.

In agreeing to return to the table, ETFO is optimistic that the government’s representatives will engage in meaningful bargaining around key issues, said president Sam Hammond in a statement.

“Open exploratory talks with the Ford government’s negotiators must include a mandate to remove further cuts, increase supports for students with special needs, preserve the current Kindergarten model with a teacher and designated early childhood educator, and maintain fair and transparent hiring practices,” he said.

“It’s time that the Ford government recognized that our public education system is key to the future of this province’s economy. We must have the tools and supports to prepare students to realize their individual aspirations and productively contribute to the economic and social fabric of this province,” said Hammond, whose union represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers and education workers.

The ETFO has said it will escalate its rotating strikes across the province starting Monday if central agreements are not reached by the end of January.

Lecce, however, laid the blame for the impasse and resultant job action on union greed.

“Repeated escalation at the expense of our students, to advance higher compensation, higher wages, and even more generous benefits, is unacceptable for parents and students in our province. We firmly believe students should be in class, which is why we continue to stand ready to negotiate to reach a deal Ontario students deserve,” he said in a statement January 27.

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