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Ontario's public elementary school teachers to start rotating strikes Jan. 20

Last Updated Jan 9, 2020 at 5:50 pm EDT

An empty classroom is pictured at McGee Secondary school in Vancouver on September 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Elementary teachers in Ontario are planning rotating strikes starting Jan. 20 unless there is significant progress with the government in what has been a difficult round of contract talks.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said Thursday that “if the government refuses to address critical issues” by Jan. 17, its members will start a full withdrawal of services on a rotating basis the following Monday. No bargaining dates are scheduled so far between now and the planned strikes.

Union president Sam Hammond said that in six months of contract talks, government negotiators have only discussed cuts to education. The union has tried to keep its ongoing work-to-rule campaign from interfering with student activities, Hammond said, but now teachers need to take a stand for public education.

“We are not taking this step lightly or in haste,” he said.

“I say to parents that as difficult as this is for all of us _ none of us want to be here _ but we are suggesting that they stand with us and tell this government to get serious at the table and get a deal and avoid any further steps that we’ve announced today.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said such actions hurt students.

“Union leaders promised that their escalation would not impact students and their learning,” Lecce said in a statement.

“Regrettably, they have again broken that promise.”

Hammond has said key issues are more supports for students with special needs, addressing violence in schools and preserving full-day kindergarten.

Elementary teachers are also seeking higher wage increases than the government has offered.

The teachers have been staging an administrative work-to-rule campaign since November, and they say they will ramp that up starting Monday by no longer supervising extra-curricular activities outside regular school hours, participating in field trips, or participating in assemblies, except to supervise students. They will also not arrive at work earlier than 30 minutes before the start of the teaching day, and won’t stay at work for more than 15 minutes after the end of the day.

All of Ontario’s major teachers’ unions have expressed frustration with a lack of progress in talks with the government. They have been without contracts since Aug. 31.

High school teachers have staged a series of rotating strikes and have also been on a work-to-rule campaign since November. Teachers in the English Catholic system will be starting an administrative work-to-rule campaign on Monday, after two planned days of scheduled talks broke down after just half a day.

“Even the Ministry of Labour-appointed conciliator agrees there is not much more we can accomplish for the time being,” Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president Liz Stuart said in a statement Thursday.

The work-to-rule includes not participating in standardized testing, preparing report card comments or participating in Ministry of Education initiatives.

Catholic and high school teachers were angered when the Tories announced in March that average secondary school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.

The province has since scaled back those increases, to an average class size of 25 and two e-learning courses, but the unions say that’s not good enough.

Lecce has repeatedly said the key sticking point in negotiations with high school teachers is compensation, with the union demanding a roughly two-per-cent wage increase and the government offering one per cent.

The government enacted legislation limiting public sector wage increases to one per cent for three years. The teachers and other unions are challenging the move in court as an unconstitutional violation of their collective bargaining rights.