Some Teachers Furious After Province Accuses Unions of Not Cooperating

 

Some teachers are accusing the Doug Ford government of "playing games" after the province chided some teachers' unions for reportedly failing to take the government up on its offer to begin "early good faith bargaining."

The province has been at odds with many educators since it announced that it would be overhauling the system by increasing class sizes and making some cuts to central funding.  

The discord—and the fact that the current education sector labour agreement expires on Aug. 31—has left many to suggest that strike action could be possible.

There has been no formal talk of a strike at this time.

Our government took the unprecedented step this month of providing teachers’ unions with an opportunity to start early good faith bargaining to allow labour negotiations to conclude in time to ensure our students will be in classes, where they belong, in September," Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education, said in a statement.

"The current education sector labour agreement negotiated by the previous government expires on August 31, 2019, which coincides with the start of the fall school year. We believe this is unacceptable. Our government will be considering changing the expiry date of future education sector labour agreements to a different time of year to minimize any disruption to students’ ability to attend class."

The province says the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has agreed to begin bargaining.

It says it's calling on the remaining teachers’ federations to do the same and is "extremely disappointed" that the remaining teachers’ federations and education workers’ unions have not responded to the opportunity.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) says that the government should be "ashamed" of its rhetoric, accusing the province of "playing games" by releasing a statement on the upcoming negotiations.

"The inflammatory statements made by Minister of Education Lisa Thompson about teachers' organizations being unwilling to begin bargaining are a childish, desperate attempt to shift blame for the damage the government is doing to publicly funded education in Ontario," says Liz Stuart, President of OECTA.

"This statement is further evidence that this government has absolutely no grasp on the collective bargaining process and what 'good faith' actually means. It is stunts like this that erode public confidence and create anxiety."

The province says it's eager to begin the process as early as possible to ensure students will be in class when school starts in September.

OECTA says the government is currently in consultations around class size increases, compensation for public sector workers, and the fair hiring process for teachers.

"These are matters that should properly be dealt with through collective bargaining, but discussions cannot begin while the government is still pretending that the matters are up for debate with other parties," says Stuart.

"The government also has not released the full technical paper for the 2019-20 Grants for Student Needs, which means teachers and school boards are not able to properly assess how schools will be funded in the coming school year."

Many school boards have been forced to declare teachers surplus (meaning they have told them that they would not have a permanent position available in September unless they receive proper funding). The province says it has added a $1.6 billion fund over the next four years specifically to ensure no teacher loses a job as a result of proposed changes to class sizes or e-learning.

School boards are still evaluating how the funding will—or will not—impact their decision to eliminate some permanent teaching positions.

The province has accused the unions of "acting irresponsibly and causing unnecessary fear and anxiety for parents."

"They continue to prioritize their own agenda at the cost of student success and sow seeds of division and doubt," Thompson said in a statement.

OECTA says it's the province that has failed to act in the best interests of students.

"The government needs to step up and start acting responsibly. Nothing they have done thus far concerning education has been in good faith, and with their statements over the past few days they are obviously trying to bully teachers and mislead the public," Stuart said.

"Our association wants to reach a fair agreement that will serve our members' interests and protect quality working and learning conditions, but we can only do this when we have all of the necessary information. I want parents to know that Catholic teachers want to be in their classrooms teaching come this September."

Updates to come.

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