Province-wide teacher negotiations a no-go

By 
  • March 20, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Just because provincial education bureaucrats and top union officials are sitting down together  in meeting rooms talking about wages and benefits with an eye toward another four-year deal doesn’t mean Ontario has embraced province-wide bargaining with teachers’ unions, said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.

The minister made her comments after making a speech to about 600 Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association union representatives in Toronto March 9.

The fundamental assumptions of local boards negotiating with their unions about wages and salaries changed when the province took direct control of all school board funding in 1998, said Wynne. For that reason setting some provincial objectives and ground rules before the local bargaining starts is now necessary, said Wynne.

“That doesn’t supplant local bargaining,” she said.

The unions are wary of squaring off against the province in all-or-nothing negotiations that union leadership feels will steamroller local concerns.

Nobody on the ministry, union or school board teams is allowed to say anything about what’s on the table at provincial talks that began about a month ago. However, Wynne was at pains to reassure OECTA leaders. Provincial discussion tables will “enable successful local negotiation,” she said.

OECTA president Elaine McNeil said it was too early to say whether provincial discussion tables will make strikes more or less likely.

“We’ve got a little bit more time this time to see whether or not we can sort this out,” McNeil said.

The experience of the last four years has made the union wary of long-term agreements.

“Has the last four years been difficult for us? Yes, we’ve got lots of grievances to prove that,” McNeil said.

“We’ve made a good start,” Wynne told OECTA delegates without saying anything about what the discussions cover.

“Our role as a government is to facilitate discussion between the boards and you,” she said.

While the goal is another four-year deal, that goal has nothing to do with a political calculation that such an agreement would mean no teacher strikes between now and the next provincial election, said Wynne. Labour peace is part of a “peace and progress” agenda for education, she said.

In her speech to OECTA delegates, Wynne promised a slower, more measured pace of new initiatives which require teachers to fill out more paper work.

“Our focus will be consolidation over the next four years, and not introducing a slew of new initiatives,” said Wynne to a round of applause.

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