Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten reminded the province’s teachers on Thursday that her government has the legislative “tools” to impose a labour agreement if elementary teachers proceed with plans to strike as early as Monday.
“I’m very disappointed to learn that our public elementary school teachers will be moving to strike action,” Broten said. “We do not want students in the middle and we will not let their success be threatened in the classroom.
“We will continue to negotiate until we reach agreements or we will use the tools available to us,” she said. “I don’t want to speculate on what tools we would use, but we will continue to negotiate until we reach agreements.”
Broten’s comments come in response to a statement issued Wednesday by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO) announcing that its members could begin strike action starting next week.
The union has said it would give parents three days' notice before starting any strike action, which Broten said Thursday gives parents little time to prepare.
Broten said her government would be willing to use powers in legislation passed in September that allows the government to quash strikes and impose agreements that will freeze wages.
Her comments come in what is emerging as a high-stakes showdown with teachers.
Tentative agreements for high school teachers reached through negotiating at three school boards were rejected in two instances by union members this week.
Broten said Thursday there is still time to reach agreements at the negotiating table.
Ontario secondary school teachers are already working to rule in many schools, and refusing many administrative duties.
EFTO president Sam Hammond said Thursday that the province has left the union no option but to strike.
“[A strike] is the very last thing we want to consider,” he said. “We have made no progress with any negotiations that we are having at the local level, nor have we with the provincial government. We just cannot stand by and let the provincial government attack our fundamental rights.”