Ontario Catholic teachers to resume one-day strikes next week

TORONTO — Ontario's Catholic teachers will hold another provincewide strike next week after efforts to resume labour negotiations with the provincial government broke down, the union representing the educators said Thursday.

In a statement announcing the March 5, job action, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association said it suspended planned walkouts as a "sign of good faith" when it returned to the bargaining table earlier this week.

But OECTA President Liz Stuart said the government, which is in tense contract talks with all four of the province's major teachers' unions, did not make a similar effort.

"Instead of coming to the table with a plan to reach an agreement, the government continued to insist on its deep, permanent cuts," Stuart said in the statement announcing the strike. "All the while, the minister of education has continued his attempts to mislead the public by making baseless accusations against Catholic teachers and our association."

Next Thursday's strike would come nearly two weeks after a provincewide walkout involving nearly 200,000 teachers from all four of the province's major education labour groups. It was the largest such strike in more than 20 years.

OECTA, along with unions representing elementary, high school and French-language teachers, have been in contentious labour negotiations with the government since their contracts expired last August.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation has repeatedly voiced concerns with the government's planned increases to class sizes and new mandatory e-learning requirements. The union has been holding a series of rotating one-day strikes in protest, and another such walkout is planned across 16 school boards on Friday.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has said its key issues include guaranteeing the future of full-day kindergarten, securing more funding to hire special education teachers, and maintaining seniority hiring rules.

The union representing Ontario's French-language teachers, meanwhile, is to return to the bargaining table with the government on Friday.

All of the teachers' unions are also asking for around two per cent in annual salary increases, but the Ontario government has passed legislation capping raises for public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The unions and other groups are challenging that legislation in court, saying it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said the two-per-cent raise the teachers are seeking is the biggest sticking point in current contract talks.

In a statement Thursday night, he asked the union to return to talks.

"Students deserve to be in class," Lecce said. "That is why I am calling on OECTA to return to the table to get a deal."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2020.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version of this story misspelled OECTA President Liz Stuart's last name.