OSSTF one-day strike. December 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of OSSTF/ via Twitter)OSSTF one-day strike. December 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of OSSTF/ via Twitter)

OSSTF, government play waiting game with negotiations

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) is holding firm as it and the province wait to be called back to the bargaining table.

High school teachers and education workers at 10 school boards, including the Thames Valley District School Board and the Lambton-Kent Public School Board, participated in another one-day strike on Wednesday. The job action marked the third one-day strike in as many weeks and came shortly after the mediator called off talks, suggesting the two sides meet again in the new year.

Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues, said the government is "disappointed" by the circumstance resulting in Wednesday's job action, adding that the OSSTF is unwilling to budge on certain issues.

"Unfortunately, the unions haven't budged at all," Dunlop claimed. "It has been the province who's coming to the table, willing to negotiate with the changes in the online learning and the average class sizes."

Dunlop said the government has already taken steps to change the number of mandatory e-learning classes from four to two and has looked at decreasing average class sizes from 28 to 25 students.

"We've come to the table willing to negotiate and unfortunately the union hasn't," she said.

OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof confirms the union will not budge when it comes to issues that are too important for compromise.

"Those aren't improvements that they're proposing," said Bischof. "My members have told me repeatedly that they're not interested in compromising the quality of education."

While the OSSTF maintains it is standing up against larger class sizes, cuts to support staff and specialized programs, as well as mandatory e-learning, the provincial government continues to claim that the main sticking point is compensation.

"The average OSSTF teacher is making approximately $92,000 a year now so with an additional one per cent of that compensation, we're looking at $750 million. With the additional -- they're looking at two per cent, that would be an additional $750 million [which comes to $1.5 billion]," she said. "We're offering a reasonable one per cent increase which is $750 million but they're asking for $1.5 billion in compensation."

Bischof said the claim that they are asking for $1.5 billion is "completely inaccurate".

"At the OSSTF bargaining table, what we're proposing in terms of a cost of living adjustment, an increase that's in line with inflation amounts to about $200 million," he said.

Since bargaining is at a virtual standstill, Bischof said it's time the province reviews the union's latest proposal.

"It's really time for the Minister of Education to focus on the quality of education issues. He repeatedly raises compensation as if that were the roadblock when in fact compensation didn't come up at the bargaining table for a single second on Monday," said Bischof. "He should start to listen to parents that his ministry consulted who told them that they want to maintain the quality of education in this province."

Both sides have said they would like staff and students back in the classroom but Bischof said at this point, all they can do is wait to hear from the mediator -- hopefully before the new year.

Related: Teachers unions launch court challenge against wage-gap legislation

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