Ontario teachers offer 'olive branch' in labour dispute

Ontario's elementary teachers say they will not strike in the new year if the government in return promises not to impose a contact.

ETFO vows not to strike after Dec. 31 if province doesn't impose contract

ETFO president Sam Hammond says the teachers' offer may be able to clear the way toward a negotiated settlement. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario’s elementary teachers have offered not to strike in January, if in return the government promises to not impose a contract on them after the December 31st deadline.

If teachers unions don't reach deals with school boards by year's end, the province has the power to impose contracts under Bill 115. Education Minister Laurel Broten hasn't said she will use that power right away.

Sam Hammond, who heads the elementary teachers union, said the teachers’ offer could help break the impasse that has led to rotating one-day teacher walkouts at schools across the province in recent weeks.

"I think it will get us through a very difficult period and allow us to negotiate and deal with this in a respectful way going forward," said Hammond. "Let's not go into January headed in the direction that we're headed. Let's take a pause, if you will."

The governing Liberals will choose a new premier at a leadership convention set for the weekend of Jan. 25-26. Hammond said he's hopeful that a change in the premier's office will also help reach a settlement.

"Let us work with that new premier collectively to find a solution to this," said Hammond.      

Move a change in tactics for the teachers

CBC provincial affairs reporter Mike Crawley said the offer marks a significant change of direction for the teachers.

"Until now the elementary teachers have just been ramping up their pressure tactics," he said Friday. "Teachers are saying 'here's our olive branch.'"

NDP education critic Peter Tabuns calls the union's move an important concession.

"This is the first time we’ve had someone ‘say let's get off this road,’" said Tabuns.

There was no immediate response from the McGuinty government.

Eric Hoskins, a Liberal leadership candidate, said Friday the government should hold off on imposing a contract in light of the teachers' offer.

"This means that the government should not impose the provisions of Bill 115, and in return our teachers and education workers must refrain from further job actions," he said in statement. "That is what it will take to reach a negotiated agreement."

High school teachers vote for day of protest

Also on Friday, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation voted in favour of conducting a one-day political protest to show their opposition to Bill 115.

No date was announced for the protest.

OSSTF president Ken Coran said the voted is " a clear message that they oppose Bill 115 and they are willing to walk out for one day to show the Liberals and the Conservatives that they will not be intimidated by their cynical agenda to strip us of our democratic rights."

With files from CBC's Mike Crawley