Premier Dalton McGuinty is asking Ontario's teachers to "do their part" to help slow down spending and protect education in the province.
In a YouTube video released Friday morning, McGuinty thanks teachers for their years of work before asking them to accept a wage freeze and changes to their sick-leave plan.
"While education funding will still grow, we're going to have to focus on things that allow our children to achieve the best possible results," the premier said.
'Leave the negotiating to the negotiators at the table.' — Peter Tabuns, NDP member for Toronto-Danforth
"Because salaries account for most of that education funding, we're going to be asking all those working in education to do their part to help us slow down spending."
Kevin O'Dwyer, the head of the English Catholic Teachers Association, made it clear in an interview on CBC Radio's Ontario Today that he was unimpressed by the video.
"If this is going to be about genuine bargaining and collective agreements, then we should be respectful of that process . …When people start to pop off outside of that bargaining process, that does raise concern for someone who is actively at the table trying to pursue a deal."
The NDP slammed McGuinty's statement as a publicity stunt.
"Leave the negotiating to the negotiators at the table," said Peter Tabuns, the NDP member for Toronto-Danforth. "And the more they play games outside, the more difficult, politicized and tortuous these negotiations will become."
In the video, which comes a day after opposition parties accused the Liberals of negotiating through the media, McGuinty asked teachers to accept a "real two-year wage freeze."
Ontario teachers start at $41,766 to $44,292, and can make up to $92,813 in elementary schools and $94,942 in secondary schools, depending on years of service and education.
The government wants to freeze the grid so no one gets a raise because of seniority or improved credentials.
Teachers can bank up to 200 sick days
The premier is also asking teachers for an end to a "generous sick leave plan" which currently allows most teachers in Ontario to bank up to 200 days over their career, leading to a lump sum payment averaging $46,000 when they retire.
The government wants to limit teachers to six sick days a year and eliminate their ability to accumulate them and be paid out, although sick days that have already been banked will be protected.
Education Minister Laurel Broten has said teachers' sick days currently amount to a $1.7-billion liability and can't be sustained by a government facing a $16-billion deficit.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has called the details of the government's position "offensive" and walked out of contract talks on Wednesday.
McGuinty's video urges teachers to work with the government to safeguard the education of Ontario's youth as the province weathers a tough global economy.
"Getting there won't be easy," he said. "It's going to take an unwavering commitment and we need to make the right choices for our students.
"If we work together, we can keep advancing student achievement, so that we preserve our greatest advantage as a province that's our highly skilled, highly educated workforce."
Contracts for teachers and school support staff expire Aug. 31, and the government is seeking only a two-year deal after going for four-year agreements in the last two sets of negotiations.