The Ontario government is taking a tough line in contract negotiations with teachers, calling for a two-year salary freeze and an end to accumulating sick days for payout upon retirement.
The offer from the province to teachers would end the current arrangement in which teachers in some boards can accumulate up to 200 sick days over their career and get paid for them when they retire.
The sick-day payment at retirement averages about $46,000 per teacher.
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Education Minister Laurel Broten said the sick leave payout will cost the province $137 million next year and added the arrangement is out of step in a province struggling to pare down a $16-billion deficit.
"This type of benefit is not in keeping with our fiscal reality," she said Thursday.
The government is proposing to end the sick day accumulation while offering teachers six full-day sick days a year at full salary and up to 24 weeks at two-thirds salary.
The practice of carrying sick days forward would also be ended. The province also wants to maintain its contribution to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan at current levels.
Additionally, the province would like to freeze the salary grid for teachers, so that their salaries would not rise even if they gain additional qualifications or experience.
Ontario teachers currently have a starting wage of between $41,766 and $44,292. The maximum wage in elementary schools is $92,813 in elementary schools and $94,942 in secondary schools, depending on years of service and education.
Teachers' union offended
One teachers' union says the province’s position is offensive and an attack on their rights.
"To say we were insulted is an understatement," wrote Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario [ETFO] president Sam Hammond in a letter to union members.
"We find the tone and, most significantly, the content of the government’s parameters to be offensive to all ETFO members and cannot be a party to what amounts to deep and mean-spirited strips to our collective agreements that would negatively affect every member at every stage of their career."
The ETFO walked out of contract talks Wednesday, but talks continue with all other teachers' unions.
The province's approach with the teachers could set the tone for negotiations with other unions, as Queen's Park seeks to scale back spending.
Opposition education critic Lisa McLeod said all of Ontario’s public sector workers should have their wages frozen for a two-year period, not just teachers.
"We support a legislative wage freeze for everybody [in the public sector]," said MacLeod.
"Mr. McGuinty's not prepared to make that sacrifice and what we're now seeing is negotiations through the media rather than at the table, and that's going to be quite divisive."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the Liberal government of bargaining through the media, but she would not say if her party supported ending the banking of sick days.
"I can't on the one hand criticize the government for bargaining through the media and then jump into that game myself," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"I think specifically because it is a tough round of bargaining that's ahead of the teachers and the government that they should be doing it in a productive way, and by whipping things up in the media I don't think is very positive."
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.