OECTA president Ann Hawkins says the Liberal government is interested in appeasing the elected trustees rather than addressing teacher needs. Photo courtesy of OECTA

OECTA preparing for job action when school starts

By 
  • July 13, 2015

Ontario's Catholic teachers have signalled that they are ready to strike just before school is set to resume in September.

In a July 9 news release, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association said "it has taken a stand" against efforts to "further erode the classroom experience for students and teachers" and would place itself in a legal strike position by mid-August, though it doesn’t necessarily mean teachers will be on strike to start the school year.

“Our members are standing up for what's right for the education system, principles the employer does not seem to be taking seriously,” said Ann Hawkins, president of OECTA. “Schools will open in September, however, it won't be business as usual.” 

The move came just 24 hours after the government tabled a contract proposal that failed to satisfy the union.

“They indicated to us in the last pass back very clearly that they were not in a position to actually reach a fair negotiated settlement,” said Hawkins.

Key areas where OECTA's more than 50,000 members would like to see improvements in the government’s offer include matters of professional autonomy, ability to exercise professional judgment and hiring practices.

But the government doesn't seem committed to addressing the needs of teachers, said Hawkins.

“The Liberal government has repeatedly stated its commitment to the bargaining process yet remains more interested in appeasing the elected trustees than addressing the needs of teachers,” she said. “The government's aim is to make profound cuts to our collective agreements that would have a negative impact. They want to take away (from teachers).”

OECTA's 50,000 members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in April if an agreement couldn't be reached. The union and the province had been negotiating with the assistance of a mediator but those talks failed. The union has requested a "no board" report, issued when conciliation is unsuccessful and the parties are unable to come to an agreement. OECTA will be in a legal strike position 17 days following the issue of a no board report, which would likely be in mid-August.

“The process doesn't seem to be working very well,” said Hawkins. “The process and the actual negotiations have been somewhat disappointing and frustrating because of the lack of progress.”

Minister of Education Liz Sandals said OECTA should come back to the bargaining table to reach an agreement.

“The best way to reach an agreement is through negotiation and collaboration,” she said. “Our government has been clear on our commitment to negotiation throughout the summer and are prepared to compromise. We remain committed and available to bargain and encourage OECTA to resume bargaining as soon as possible.”

The Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees' Association (OCSTA) is also ready to continue discussions throughout the summer.

“OCSTA is prepared to resume discussions and hope to do so in advance of the start of the school year,” said president Kathy Burtnik. “While there may be possible job action we remain focused on the best interests of students and are committed to reaching an acceptable agreement prior to September.”

Words of encouragement however, won't be enough to bring the union back to the table.

“At this point in time we don't see any point in future negotiations until we can see a substantive and reasonable proposal being passed back,” said Hawkins. 

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