Ontario elementary teachers begin work-to-rule campaign, negotiations

As elementary teachers began a work-to-rule campaign Monday, the union representing them said little progress was made despite a restart of negotiations with the province.

Schools remain open, but teachers won't work on standardized testing or write on report cards

Interview with John Smith, president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto 4:59

As elementary teachers began a work-to-rule campaign Monday, the union representing them said little progress was made despite a restart of negotiations with the province. 

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents some 76,000 teachers, said it was called back to the bargaining table by a mediator, but when it became clear the province wasn't going to back down from its demands the negotiations ended quickly.

"It was our expectation that the government and the Ontario Public School Board Association (OPSBA) would remove concessions from the table. That did not happen and the meeting ended at 11:00 a.m.," said ETFO President Sam Hammond in a news release. 

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who announced the talks had resumed at Queen's Park, said she was "pleased" teachers had returned to the table.

It's unclear when the two sides will negotiate again.

ETFO launched its job action, which affects all 32 of Ontario's English public school boards, following eight months of unsuccessful negotiations with the province and local school boards. 

On Monday, all elementary schools are still open, but there are differences inside classrooms.

Members of ETFO and other teachers' groups rallied outside the constituency office of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto in May. (Stephanie Matteis/CBC)
During the first phase of the job action, teachers:
  • Will refuse to work on standardized testing.
  • Won't add written comments on report cards.
  • Won't attend staff and other meetings.

"Hopefully this will get results without kind of pushing it to the extreme," said GTA music teacher Sarah Benoit.

While the changes may have an impact on students, Elementary Teachers of Toronto president John Smith said its an important stand to take.

 "We're doing this action to fight for better education to serve the children of Ontario better," Smith said.

Parent happy school isn't closed

Teresa Biderman said she's pleased the strike hasn't closed her son Patryk's school – something that would have forced her to take time off work — but is concerned about the "tightening" of activities for students.

Her son said he's mostly concerned about losing feedback on his report card.

"I think it is good to have comments on the report card 'cause of course that's how to improve and where to improve," he said.

ETFO says the job action isn't about money, but working conditions for teachers.

"Preparation time, supervision, their ability to exercise professional judgment, and fair and equitable hiring practices" are all key issues for teachers, said ETFO president Sam Hammond.

They have been without a contract since last August. 

'Not a rosy day in education' new PC leader says

Over the weekend, Education Minister Liz Sandals said the government was ready to negotiate, but didn't say if she was prepared to remove several concessions that concern ETFO.

"Our government has been clear that we are ready and available to bargain with all parties," Sandals said. 

Patrick Brown, who was picked as the next leader of the Ontario PC party on the weekend, blamed the "chaos in the classroom" on the Liberal government.

Brown said the government created unreasonable expectations for teachers during the last election, something it now has to deal with at the bargaining table.

"This is not a rosy day in education," he told reporters at Queen's Park.

Teachers have blasted several concessions sought amid the negotiations with the province and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA). ETFO says the board and province want to take control of teachers' preparation time, continue to force teachers to deal with an "excessive" number of ministry initiatives and rescind a hiring regulation that allows occasionally teachers to be hired into long-term contracts.

"In order for real progress to be made at the central table, OPSBA and the Liberal government need to reconsider their concession-based approach to central bargaining," Hammond said in his statement.

Hammond added the concessions were initially introduced as "opening positions," but still remain on the table.

"ETFO would like to move beyond opening positions to meaningful bargaining," he said.

Under new provincial legislation, teachers' unions are negotiating in a two-tiered system, in which they have parallel talks with both local boards and the province.

With files from The Canadian Press


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