Since August 31, high school, elementary, Catholic, and French teachers in Ontario have been without a contract. The winter months have thus far seen unsuccessful negotiation, which has culminated in work to rule, strikes, and walkouts.
The dispute is between the provincial government and four teachers’ unions: the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), and l’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO).
Issues of contention
The first cause for dispute is wages, as the teachers are asking for a 2% salary increase per year to keep up with the cost of inflation, which is a concern all four unions have. The Ford government is only willing to offer a 1% increase per year, and neither side is budging. This has been the largest issue standing in the way of forming a contract.
The second reason for the strike is the increase in class sizes at the high school level. The Ford government announced a plan to increase the average class size from 22 to 28 over the next four years. Teachers say that 28 is too many students per classroom to offer adequate education and believe that students will suffer from this increase. It would additionally result in the loss of 10,000 teaching positions. Education Minister Stephen Lecce backed down on this issue as of March 3, now offering an increase to 23 students per classroom. The provincial class average currently sits around 22.8.
A third issue at the table has been that the provincial government has made it mandatory to take four online classes in order to graduate from high school. Teachers met this requirement with concern, stating that not all schools have equal technology facilities, and raised concerns that e-learning is not beneficial for everyone.
Other issues have been the question of a full-day kindergarten, practices for teacher hiring, as well as special education funding.
What led to these funding cuts?
These funding cuts are in response to Ford’s goal to balance the budget, and it is not only the educational sector that is facing cuts. All public sector employees have been limited to a 1% increase per year. Cuts have also been made to an Indigenous culture fund, artificial intelligence research, annual funding to stem cell research, the e-health budget, and more.
What’s happening now?
Strikes are currently on hold for the next few weeks, although teachers have said that this is because of March break and not a breakthrough in negotiation. The main point of contention remains to be compensation, as neither the teachers nor the province are budging on their proposed annual salary increase. Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the EFTO to “cease escalation and focus on negotiating a deal that keeps students in class” on Monday, March 9. He has made a commitment to full-day kindergarten and full funds to support special learning as a bargaining chip. According to Lecce, the ball is in the teacher’s court.
While some, such as the OECTA, seem potentially ready to make a deal and get back to work, others, such as the EFTO, are threatening to return to rotating strikes on March 23 if they don’t strike a deal at negotiations this week. The OSSTF has not formally engaged in bargaining since December 16, though there have been informal talks this week.