Ontario Liberals looking at potential contract extensions for teachers
Teacher contracts currently expire Aug. 2017, with bargaining for next deals slated for this spring
Ontario's Liberal government is looking at extending teachers' contracts, which could ensure there would be no contentious education bargaining in the lead-up to the 2018 election.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the issue arose as part of discussions with education-sector unions over a court ruling earlier this year that said the government violated their collective bargaining rights.
Legislation in 2012, known as Bill 115, imposed contracts on teachers that froze some of their wages and limited their ability to strike, so five unions took the government to court. The judge sided with them, but left the question of a remedy up to the government and unions to decide.
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In the course of those talks and while looking at possible changes to the School Board Collective Bargaining Act, the government raised the idea of contract extensions.
Teacher and education-worker contracts currently expire Aug. 31, 2017 and bargaining for the next deals had been likely to start in the spring, about a year before the next provincial election is expected.
When Education Minister Mitzie Hunter was asked if contract extensions are an option for each of the unions, she said she didn't know.
"That information I don't have," she said. "It's part of an ongoing discussion that we're having in context of those discussions with respect to remedy."
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation president Paul Elliott said the government broached the subject with his union, but it's very preliminary right now.
"We went to our leaders and we've been given a green light to enter into those discussions," he said.
Elliott said the government hadn't yet proposed a length for contract extensions.
"If nothing comes of it then we're back to giving our usual notice to bargain in April," he said.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario would not comment on any discussions.
The last set of teacher and education worker contracts expired in 2014 and what followed was an unusually long round of talks due to the new legislation. It was the first time unions were to reach central deals with the government, then local deals with each school board across the province.
The length of bargaining led to controversy for the Liberal government, after it was revealed that three unions were promised $2.5 million to cover their negotiation costs.
That was in addition to more than $1 million the government gave unions in previous rounds of bargaining because preparations for the new legislation also made them lengthier. And it was in addition to $4.6 million the government gave to school boards. It is also in addition to more than $1 million the government spent on its own negotiation costs.
Central deals were reached in August 2015 with OSSTF, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, the following month with the French teachers' union and with ETFO in November.
But more than a year after those first two major central deals were inked, a small number of the 470 local deals are still outstanding. Elliott has said it is leading to a state of "perpetual bargaining."