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'We've been driven to this': High school teachers to hold one-day strike on Wednesday

Last Updated Nov 28, 2019 at 10:32 pm EDT

Public high school teachers in Ontario will hold a one-day strike on Wednesday.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represents the teachers, announced Thursday that it’s given the province the mandatory notice that its members intend to walk off the job.

By law, the union must give five days notice before any strike action. OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said the union has given six days notice, in order to give parents more time to plan.

Bischof said Wednesday’s walk-out could be avoided if a tentative deal is reached before then.

“The erosion of education is happening now, and we can’t wait any longer for this to continue,” he said Thursday. “We’ve been driven to this action. The minister (Education Minister, Stephen Lecce) has been unwilling to listen to parents, unwilling to listen to the polls, unwilling to listen to the students.”

“For that reason on Wednesday, December 4, OSSTF members … will take a one-day walk out, a full withdrawal of services.”

Lecce countered, saying: “Strikes hurt kids. Our Government has been clear, we want deals that keep students in class. For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their back on our children, and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is deeply troubling for parents and our Government.

“Our Government has demonstrated consistently it is reasonable and student-centric by making major moves that have not been matched or reciprocated by the teachers’ unions.

“In fact, on the days we made reasonable offers – reducing class room sizes from 28 to 25 and reducing online learning courses from four to two – the unions decided to escalate. This is wrong, and our students deserve better.”

The Education Minister says compensation, not class sizes, is the biggest sticking point. Lecce says the union is seeking a $1.5 billion increase in pay, while the province is offering $750 million.

“That is the principle issue that divides the parties,” Lecce said.

Premier Doug Ford said he has confidence that Lecce can reach a deal with the teachers.

“We’re doing everything we can to strike a deal and I think we’ve shown good faith,” the premier said.

Lecce wants to bring in an independent mediator to help find a amicable solution.

“I call on OSSTF to remain at the bargaining table, with third-party, independent mediation, up until the deadline,” he said.

There’s no word if the union will agree to that request, but Bischof said teachers will be back in class on Thursday, and any further strike action would still require a five-day notice.

“This is intended to draw further attention to this government’s destructive cuts to the education system,” he said.

“It’s about quality of education. They are talking about no caps on class sizes, reduction of support staff … we need appropriate staffing in order to provide students with the services that they need.”

The Toronto District School Board says if teachers walk out on Wednesday, parents and/or guardians would need to make alternate arrangements for their kids that day.

“Should the walkout take place, the TDSB would have no other option but to close all secondary schools to students, including Adult Day Schools and Secondary Night School, as there would not be sufficient supervision to ensure their safety,” the TDSB said in a statement.

Both the York District School Board and Peel District School Board say they are currently reviewing how the walk out will affect their schools and would provide more information in the days to come.

Last week the OSSTF announced that high school teachers voted 95.5 per cent in favour of strike action.

Both elementary and high school teachers began administrative work-to-rule campaigns on Tuesday, picketing during non-school hours and withdrawing from some services that they assure won’t affect student learning.

The labour strife comes after the Ford government’s plans to increase class sizes, and recent legislation limiting raises for all public sector workers to one per cent per year for three years.

The four major teachers’ unions, which have been trying to ink new labour deals since previous contracts expired on Aug. 31., have all expressed frustration with what they say has been a lack of progress at the bargaining table.

The Catholic teachers’ union has talks scheduled Friday involving a conciliator, and French teachers will hold strike votes next month.