Ford warns teachers to be back in school in fall as contract talks loom

By The Canadian Press

As elementary and high school classes wrapped up across Ontario, Premier Doug Ford warned teachers Thursday that students must be in school in the fall and not out due to labour disruptions.

Teachers’ contracts expire on Aug. 31, just days before the next school year is set to start in most schools. Contract negotiations are expected to begin sometime in July.

When asked if he would scrap Bill 124 – a controversial piece of legislation that caps public sector wage increases at one per cent annually, Ford pledged on Thursday that the province would give teachers a raise greater than one per cent given rising inflation.

“Their increase is going to be more than one per cent, it’s not going to be through the roof but it’s going to be very fair to everyone,” said Ford. “I always emphasize the word fair. I get it, I understand costs are going up but we cannot have the kids out of school no matter what.”

“We fully understand inflation, we fully understand the cost of living is going up but my message to the teacher’s union is one thing – those kids have to be back in school in September and they have to be back in school with extracurricular activities.”

Those activities have been cut in the past when teachers work to rule.

One union leader said she appreciated the premier’s optimism about striking a deal.

“We also want to see students in the classroom in the fall, and we have every intention of being there to support them,” said Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

“As far as bargaining, we would also agree that one per cent is not enough.”

Littlewood said extracurricular activities have always been voluntary.

“If teachers or other education workers want to organize extracurriculars, that would be great,” she said. “Kids have missed out on a lot over the last few years.”

Four of the five major education unions have already taken the first step to start bargaining by sending a notice of intent to the province.

The Progressive Conservatives had a poor relationship with the unions over the previous four years, with teachers staging various strikes and work-to-rule campaigns during the last round of negotiations.

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