Ottawa

Scope of job action by teachers widens

Ottawa parents are bracing for widespread labour unrest this school year as more and more teachers' unions threaten strike action — and deals with the province are nowhere in sight.

Education minister says unions' hardball tactics will only frustrate negotiatons

Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario members organize picket signs so teachers can begin picking them ahead of possible strikes next week. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Ottawa parents are bracing for widespread labour unrest this school year as more and more teachers' unions threaten strike action — and deals with the province are nowhere in sight. 

This week, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Union (OSSTF) walk off the job for another one-day strike in many schools in Ottawa and communities to the east and south.

On Monday, Ontario's English Catholic teachers became the latest to threaten a one-day strike Tues., Jan. 21 if no deal can be reached with the province. 

Meanwhile on Monday, elementary teachers met at a hotel in Ottawa to plan for their own one-day strikes next week if a deal is not struck at their own negotiating table by Friday.

They started working to rule this week, not supervising extracurricular activities or participating in field trips

The union representing Ontario's French-language teachers, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), announced Tuesday morning it will be in a legal strike position and its members will start working to rule on Thursday, affecting mostly administrative tasks.

All unions are asking parents to be patient.  

"We understand the inconvenience and we know how challenging this is," explained Elizabeth Kettle, president of the Ottawa local branch of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO). 

"You need to know that none of our teachers want to be doing this."

Elizabeth Kettle, The president of the local representing elementary teachers, met with union representatives across the city to prepare for expanding job action. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Local elementary teachers met to discuss the strike option and collect picket signs and buttons if a walk-out becomes a reality.

"Many of our teachers are parents as well and they're doing it not just for the students in their class, but for their own children," she said. 

Elementary teachers pick up picket signs and buttons in Ottawa Monday to prepare for a possible strike as early as next week. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce was not in a conciliatory mood Monday as he spoke to reporters, suggesting the "ball is in [the unions'] court." 

"We need the teachers' unions to stay at the table, negotiate in good faith and stop hurting kids, which is the direct impact of all these escalations," Lecce told reporters at Queen's Park.

"I actually would make the case that further escalation is not going to help get a deal, it's going to frustrate the process and I don't think that would be particularly constructive."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the expansion to strike action by elementary teachers as well would only frustrate negotiations. (CBC)

Lecce said the union is balking at the cap on wage increases as a key issue.

Teachers' unions are going to court to challenge the government legislation capping wage increases for public sector workers.

However, the unions have argued they're fighting for the students against government reforms announced last March, including an increase in average class sizes and the expansion of mandatory e-learning.

And they said the government has not given its negotiators the ability to deal on those issues, stalling talks.

Both sides argue parents are with them.

Trevor Haché, Heather Thur, and Sayeed Choudhury say they're standing with educators when it comes to keeping class sizes small and opposing cuts to education programs. 0:58

The co-chair of the Ottawa Carleton Assembly of School Councils said parents could begin pressuring for a deal if the walk-outs cause more disarray for families.

However, Christine Moulaison said parents have seemed mostly sympathetic with teachers' efforts to stop some of the province's reforms, including the bid to increase class sizes. 

Christine Moulaison, who also co-chairs the Ottawa Carleton Association of School Councils, says community members are coming together to help families who will be affected by this week's strike.  0:32

Curriculum 'flexible'

Despite the possible strike days, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said parents should not fear that kids will be missing significant portions of the curriculum.

"It's written with a great deal of flexibility," said its education director Camille Williams-Taylor.

"There is the opportunity to combine things, there's the opportunity to build on big ideas as opposed to get into the nitty gritty, so we do feel confident that our students will continue to get the support that they need … by making a few adjustments."

The OCDSB's education director Camille Williams-Taylor says expanding strike action should not have an impact on its curriculum this term. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

It has meant that Grade 9 standardized EQAO math tests won't happening this week in that board, with all of them now happening in June — even for students who wouldn't have taken math in months by then.

With files from The Canadian Press

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