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AEFO says it 'gave negotiation a good try' as teachers in Ontario's French System hold strike

Teachers in Ontario's French system are holding a strike today, as public elementary and high school teachers walk out at select boards.

Various teachers' strikes being staged Thursday after announcement of joint walkout

Teachers in Ontario are ramping up pressure on the government with months of contract talks at a standstill. (Thilelli Chouikrat/CBC)

Teachers in Ontario's French system are holding a strike today, as public elementary and high school teachers walk out at select boards.

The strikes come one day after all four of Ontario's major teachers' unions — including the one representing English Catholic teachers — announced a joint one-day strike for next Friday, Feb. 21.

It's a bid to ramp up pressure on the government as months of contract talks are at a standstill, the unions say.

"It's where we are at right now. We gave negotiation a good try, we started a little bit after our friends at the other unions, and now we're at that stage where the government is not budging," AEFO president Rémi Sabourin told CBC News.

"Also, on the francophone side, the school boards are looking for cuts. So, with two adversaries like that, it was time, our members were ready, so here we are today."

Thursday's one-day strike by 12,000 French teachers is the first such job action since the inception of French-language school boards in 1997.

WATCH: Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks with reporters on his way to a cabinet meeting: 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce spoke with reporters while on his way to a cabinet meeting on Thursday. 0:51

Sabourin said it's different this time around.

"We've never seen this before —1997 first of all was not even related to bargaining. It was a political protest so it's the first time in all those years since the creation that we are where we are," he said.

"It says a lot about the government that's there. Back then, for many years after that, I would not even tell my friends what I did for a living because they were so harsh and the attacks were so strong. 

"And now we're seeing the same thing where the government is trying to divide between membership and leadership," Sabourin added.

Focus remains on getting deal, Lecce says

On his way to a cabinet meeting Thursday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the latest action by teachers' unions has "upended the lives of many students and their parents," adding that it was unacceptable.

"I am unmoved by my focus on getting a deal," Lecce said.

"I cannot comment on how they use their time but mine is working hard to deliver a predictability for parents, who I think are rightfully frustrated by the elongated process of strike by the teachers' unions and the escalation that's manifesting."

Today's one-day strike by 12,000 French teachers is the first such job action since the inception of French-language school boards in 1997. (Thilelli Chouikrat/CBC)

Lecce said the unions embarked on a strike even after "good-faith commitments" were made, including codifying and writing the full-day kindergarten letter.

"I think there is a way for a win, win-win outcome that provides the stability the students deserve, and I truly hope that the teachers' unions today will consider private mediation."

Rotating walkouts and weekly provincewide strikes

The province's elementary teachers have been holding rotating strikes as well as weekly provincewide strikes. On Thursday they are targeting the Bluewater, Grand Erie, Hamilton-Wentworth, Keewatin-Patricia, Lakehead, Ontario North East, Ottawa-Carleton, Peel, Penetanguishene, Protestant Separate, Simcoe County, Superior-Greenstone, Trillium Lakelands and York Region school boards, as well as the Ottawa Children's Treatment Centre.

High school teachers are striking at the Algoma, Superior-Greenstone, Greater Essex, Avon Maitland, Niagara, Limestone, and Renfrew school boards.

With files from The Canadian Press

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