Ford government to compensate parents affected by teachers’ strikes

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Protesting teachers obstruct Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce's car as he is driven from a Toronto school after making an announcement on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. Ontario public school teachers have embarked on job actions as a result of a dispute with the provincial government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO  Premier Doug Ford’s government is promising to compensate the parents of children affected by rotating teachers’ strikes, a move the educators’ union leaders called a “bribe” to win support in the midst of stalled labour negotiations.

Under the plan, parents whose kids aren’t yet enrolled in school but attend school-based child-care centres affected by the strikes will get the most money, while those with children in grades 1 through 7 will get the least. While parents of secondary school students won’t get any funding, those with children with special needs up to age 21 will get $40 per day.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the funding is intended to ensure students “remain cared for” during the labour actions being staged by the province’s four major teacher unions.

“It is a recognition of the costs that are being imposed on families by teacher unions,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “It is, I believe, an incremental step to put some relief back in their pockets. For some parents, they’ve already faced those fiscal costs. There could be more given what has been intimated by some of … the teacher unions.”

Lecce’s announcement was met with swift condemnation from leaders of several teachers’ unions who are planning job action early next week in response to stalled contract talks with the province.

Only the union representing Ontario’s French school system teachers currently has bargaining dates with the government.

The president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario slammed the Progressive Conservative government’s compensation plan for parents and said the education minister’s energy would be better spent getting his negotiator back to the bargaining table.

“How insulting to parents in this province, that he’s trying to transparently bribe them for support,” Sam Hammond said.

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said the compensation package demonstrates that the government is only focused on “short-term contingency strategies.”

“I’d prefer the minister focus his attention on the long-term issue of getting a deal that secures quality of education and keeps kids in classes,” Harvey Bischof said.

The government said it spends approximately $60 million per day in teacher compensation across the entire education system. Lecce estimates the program to compensate parents could cost as much as $48 million per day if a full labour disruption across all systems were to occur.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government’s “cash-back program” was an attempt to distract parents from the ongoing labour disputes with teachers, who have been without contracts since August.

“What’s most important to parents is the quality of their kids’ education, and I think they will see through this ploy to pit them against teachers,” Schreiner said in a statement.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the government plan disappointing.

“I wish this government would devote as much time and energy to actually doing what needs to be done to reverse the cuts that they’ve … put in place already as they have to this scheme,” she said.

Meanwhile, OSSTF announced Wednesday afternoon it will hold another one-day strike next week _ its sixth job action since Dec. 4 _ impacting nine school boards.

The union, which represents 60,000 teachers and education workers, made the announcement as teachers at 16 boards across Ontario participated in a walk out.

This latest one-day strike announced by OSSTF, set for next Tuesday, will coincide with a walkout planned by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. Both job actions will impact Toronto boards and will result in the closure of all secondary schools in the public and English Catholic school systems.

Ontario’s elementary teachers will also be holding a one-day strike next week, with walkouts set for three school boards on Monday unless contract talks with the government progress.

The ETFO said Wednesday it’s given five days’ notice to the province that workers in Toronto, York Region and Ottawa-Carleton boards will walk off the job.

Teachers in the provinces’ French system announced Tuesday they will start a work-to-rule campaign later this week.

The announcement by the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens means all of the major unions representing the province’s teachers are now engaged in some form of job action.

The French union, AEFO, said Phase 1 of its work-to-rule campaign would start on Thursday and would see members no longer completing some administrative duties.

Teachers were angered when the Progressive Conservatives 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 the OSSTF has said it’s not enough.

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

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