Elementary teachers' union could launch work-to-rule job action this month

The union representing elementary school teachers across Ontario says it's ready to begin a work-to-rule job action later this month.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced Thursday it's preparing teachers for the potential strike action to begin on Nov. 26. 

The federation said 98 per cent of members voted for the job action, which they say targets administrative tasks and won't affect children. 

Members are being told not to complete Term 1 report cards, not to participate in any professional learning from their school board or the ministry outside of school hours, and not to do any online training run by the ministry.

Teachers are also being told not to take part in any school board activities on professional activity (PA) days and not to respond to any emails from administrators outside of school hours, except if it is about safety, support for students with special needs or for a supply teacher to accept a job.

Provincial contracts with a number of education sector unions expired Aug. 31.The vote on possible job action came after the union said that negotiations with the province had stalled.

ETFO said its job action will be incremental, and the work-to-rule will continue either until the union deems it necessary to ramp up the strike or a new contract is reached.

"Our goal is to turn up the heat on Premier [Doug] Ford and his education minister, Stephen Lecce," said Sam Hammond, ETFO president, in a news release.

"It's critical that they finally come to contract talks prepared to address the real issues of concern: more supports for students with special needs, the protection of Ontario's Kindergarten program and critical issues like addressing violence in schools."

Kindergarten, wage increases points of tension

Hammond has said preserving full-day kindergarten is one of his members' key issues.

After the previous education minister, who was ultimately demoted, opened the door to changes to the program, the government later committed to "full-day learning" — phrasing that doesn't ease the union's fears.

But Lecce has said that contrary to how all of the province's education unions are framing the talks, compensation is a major issue. They are looking for roughly two per cent wage increases, the minister has said, but the government just passed legislation limiting raises for all public sector workers to one per cent per year for three years.

Michael Wilson/CBC

The unions have said they are preparing a court challenge, saying the law infringes their right to collectively bargain.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Lecce it is "disappointing that ETFO has decided to escalate to a partial withdrawal of services, which hurts our kids, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table."

He added that the "singular victim of this escalation is our kids."

"As I have always said, my negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good faith bargaining 24/7, to land the deals Ontario students and families deserve," Lecce continued.

Potential strikes on the horizon

Three of the four major teachers' unions, including the elementary teachers, are taking steps toward potential strikes as they negotiate with the government for new contracts.

Elementary teachers will be in a legal strike position on Nov. 25, and high school teachers will be in a legal strike position next week, although they haven't yet submitted the required five-day strike notice.

Catholic teachers have voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike but aren't yet in a legal strike position, while talks between the government and French teachers continue.

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province.