As the Ontario government prepares to enter contract talks with education unions, the province’s education minister is setting a firm expectation for bargaining — that students will return to the classroom in the fall for a “normal learning experience.”
While education unions filed a notice to bargain more than two months ago, the two sides are set to meet for face-to-face negotiations later in July, with union leaders expecting the talks to drag on well past the expiration of their contracts on Aug. . 31 st.
Sources told Global News meetings with four of the five education unions — The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association of Franco-Ontarian Teachers (AEFO) — are set to take place during the week of July 18th. A date with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has yet to be scheduled.
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Even before the meetings get underway, however, Education Minister Stephen Lecce told Global News the government is looking for “stability” in Ontario’s classrooms.
“The premier has been abundantly clear: stability, in-class, normal learning experience with the full compliment of extra-curriculars and sports — that’s what matters to families and it’s one of the priorities for this government,” Lecce said ahead of a cabinet meeting at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
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On the opposite side of the table, the priorities for education unions are focused on cost-of-living increases after the Progressive Conservative government imposed a one percent cap on contract increases through Bill 124 — one of the driving factors behind a winter of labor unrest in 2019 and 2020.
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“We haven’t been keeping up with the cost of living and that was pre-COVID times and the cost of living has gone up a lot more recently,” said OSSTF president Karen Littlewood.
While Premier Doug Ford has promised education sector workers would receive a “fair” increase of more than one percent, he cautioned that “it’s not going to be through the roof.
“We fully understand inflation, we fully understand the cost of living is going up,” Ford said on June 30.
Littlewood said while the union has heard the premier’s comments, the union is unclear on exactly what number the province has in mind.
“We don’t know what that exactly means or what that will look like, or if it will meet the needs of all the workers in the system,” Littlewood said.
NDP MPP Marit Stiles, who served as the party’s education critic before the election, said the government is “setting a harmful tone” by drawing a line in the sand even before the negotiations begin.
“The way to start a helpful, positive negotiation process is to stop actually making statements in the media and get right to the negotiating table and start talking and listening to each other,” Stiles said.
Littlewood, however, would not pre-suppose the outcome of the bargaining process when asked directly by Global News whether teachers with OSSTF will be in classrooms for the first day of school in September.
“I have every hope that we will be in the classroom,” Littlewood said. “”We are nowhere near any type of strike vote.
“It is so premature right now.”
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