Ontario public elementary school teachers set to begin rotating strikes on Monday

The union representing public elementary school teachers in Ontario has given notice that its members will begin rotating one-day strikes Monday unless a deal is reached with the province by the end of this week.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) says the following school boards will be affected on Monday:

  • Toronto District School Board.
  • Toronto Catholic District School Board (affecting Designated Early Childhood Educators).
  • York Region District School Board.
  • Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

The union is mandated to give boards five days' advance notice before strike action begins.

ETFO did not announce which boards would be affected, or when, if the rolling strikes were to continue.

However, Sam Hammond, ETFO president, said there would be an announcement by the union on Thursday about what would happen after the first strike.

"I'm not prepared, quite frankly, at this point to say what will happen after that," Hammond told reporters.

The union said the strike will go ahead unless government representatives "get serious" about reaching a deal by Friday.

Meanwhile, the union representing public high school teachers in the province said it would hold another one-day walkout in nine school boards on Tuesday — including in Toronto, Ontario's largest.

It will be the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation's (OSSTF) sixth such strike action in recent weeks. Educators and support staff represented by the union were, in fact, on strike in 16 other public boards across the province when the announcement was made Wednesday.

The job action will coincide with a one-day walkout planned by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.

Province offers parents up to $60 per day

Shortly after strike notice was given by ETFO, the Ministry of Education announced the province would be offering up to $60 a day, per child, to parents whose children would be affected by the closures.

Parents are eligible if their children are 12 years old or younger and are enrolled in a publicly funded school or a school-based child care centre that will close due to the strike. Also eligible are parents with children up to the age of 21 with special needs who are enrolled in a publicly funded school. 

The details of the compensation are as follows:

  • $60 per day for children up to 6 years old who are not yet enrolled in school but attend a school-based child care centre that is required to close on account of a strike.
  • $40 per day for students in junior or senior kindergarten.
  • $25 per day for students in Grades 1 to 7.
  • $40 total per day for students in junior kindergarten to Grade 12 (or aged 21 and under) with special needs.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce told reporters Wednesday morning the offer of compensation was an effort by the province to be "proactive."

"It is our hope that it will provide some relief to families," Lecce said.

The cost of this program works out to $48 million a day if all Ontario teachers' unions walked out at once, Lecce said. According to the ministry, the amount paid in teacher salaries across the province works out to about $60 million a day.

Province is trying to 'bribe parents': ETFO

The offer of money sparked a strong reaction from the union.

"The minister of education in this province blatantly — in a very transparent way — is trying to bribe parents to get their support in this ongoing battle," ETFO's Hammond said.

Hammond suggested the province should instead put the money into the system for "today, tomorrow and into the future, rather than trying to bribe parents." 

Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

4 teachers' unions in talks with province

This is just the latest development in the ongoing dispute between the four major teachers' unions and the Progressive Conservative government, who have been bargaining new collective agreements since the beginning of September.

The ETFO has said key issues are more supports for students with special needs, addressing violence in schools and preserving full-day kindergarten.

Elementary teachers are also seeking higher wage increases than the government has offered.

ETFO appears to be following the tack of the OSSTF, which began one-day walkouts on Dec. 4 with a job action that closed schools across the province.

It has followed up with weekly rotating strikes that have closed all secondary schools and some elementary schools at the affected boards. In addition to representing high school teachers, the OSSTF represents education workers at some elementary schools.

The following boards will be impacted by its scheduled walkout next week:

  • Toronto District School Board.
  • Simcoe County District School Board.
  • Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.
  • Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
  • Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board.
  • Rainy River District School Board.
  • Near North District School Board.
  • Grand Erie District School Board.
  • Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board.

Teachers were angered when the government announced that average high school class sizes would increase and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation. The government has since scaled back those proposals, but OSSTF president Harvey Bischof has said it's not enough.

Lecce has repeatedly said the key sticking point is compensation, with the union demanding a roughly two per cent wage increase and the government offering one per cent.