Joseph Farrugia has a few things on his mind right now. The Toronto resident's west-end home is undergoing renovations, for one thing, and his first child is due in February.
Amid all that, the elementary school teacher — who has worked contract-to-contract for the last decade — says something else is adding stress to his life: He hasn't received any health and dental benefit reimbursements from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board since the school year started in September.
"My school board, my union and my insurance provider — none of them will take accountability," he told CBC Toronto. "It's been months."
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Farrugia says his long-term occasional contract, which allows him to teach a Grade 6 and Grade 7 class full-time for the year at a school in Mississauga, stipulates that he should receive benefits.
But he says many teachers have been told that a switch to an electronic information system over the summer has delayed that process, meaning he's paying upfront for pricey dental work despite also paying into the benefit plan.
"Having to call every few mornings to try and get any resolution, I'd rather be focusing on my kids, and my own kid that's about to join this world," he added. "It's just really frustrating, it gives me anxiety."
Board, union aware of issues
More than 500 long-term occasional teachers are on contracts with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. According to a spokesperson, the board does not administer the teachers' benefit plan, nor do any other school boards in Ontario.
Instead, board spokesperson Bruce Campbell says these plans are provided by an employee life and health trust established by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), which represents roughly 45,000 teachers across the province. The trust is controlled by the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP), he says.
"We are aware that there have been issues with OTIP but this is not something the board can control," said Campbell.
"We empathize with those affected but, from our perspective, this issue belongs to OECTA ... and OTIP, and we do not have the ability to resolve the matter."
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Liz Stuart, president of OECTA, says the union is also aware of teachers' concerns.
"These difficulties are caused by software issues, for which all parties have been working toward a fix," she said in a statement. "The solution is now being implemented and we expect these issues to be resolved in the next few weeks."
Stuart stresses that teachers working on long-term occasional contracts do have benefits coverage, and she encouraged them to keep all receipts so they can submit all their expenses for reimbursement when the software issues are fixed.
"I certainly understand the inconvenience these issues have caused," she said. "However, this should not discourage members from accessing the benefits they need."
Farrugia isn't convinced the issues will be resolved any time soon — and says teachers haven't been in the loop.
"By pleading, and consistently calling, I've started to chip away and get more answers," he said.
"The communication hasn't been the greatest."