'Prepare for a strike tomorrow,' Ontario teachers' union says hours before bargaining deadline
TORONTO -- The union representing Ontario’s high school teachers says parents and caregivers should be prepared for a one-day strike on Wednesday.
“In the absence of any other announcement, in the absence of any update, prepare for a strike tomorrow,” Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation President Harvey Bischof told reporters Tuesday night.
Speaking from the downtown Toronto hotel where negotiations have been taking place between the province and the union, Bischof said the government has not put forward any meaningful proposals that would avert a strike and that the “odds are slim” that they would do so before the midnight deadline.
His announcement came moments after a hastily-called media availability by Education Minister Stephen Lecce at the same hotel. Speaking to reporters, Lecce blamed the union for a lack of any meaningful progress in negotiations and called on the OSSTF to cancel their planned strike.
“It has been over 200 days since we first started bargaining with OSSTF and in that time they have not made any substantive moves since their first proposal was tabled,” Lecce said.
Earlier in the day, Lecce said that he had presented the teachers with a new “framework” for negotiations,
“We have today through our mediators offered a new framework that we believe in our estimation will keep them at the table,” Lecce said.
However the OSSTF said there had been no communication from the province since yesterday afternoon.
“This process is nothing but frustrating. In 20 years doing this kind of work, I’ve never seen anything like it,” OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said.
Bischof said that the province has brought “nothing” to the table in negotiations.
Wages, class sizes and proposed mandatory e-learning classes are some of the issues that have been sticking points in the negotiations.
The government had previously announced plans to increase the average high school class size to 28 from 22. The province has since said that they would agree to a less drastic increase of 25 students per class.
The government has recently passed legislation to cap wage increases for all public-sector workers, however high school teachers are looking for increases to account for inflation – around two per cent.
Parents and community members held a rally outside of the hotel to support the teachers Tuesday evening.
Prior to the announcement of the planned one-day strike, teachers were already engaged in a work-to-rule campaign which entailed not putting comments on report cards, not participating in standardized testing, and not taking part in unpaid staff meetings outside school hours.
Lecce has blamed the union for “escalating” tensions between the two sides.
-With files from The Canadian Press