Ontario Catholic teachers plan one-day strike Jan. 21

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  • January 8, 2020

Ontario’s Catholic teachers will be holding a province-wide one-day strike Jan. 21.

Updated 2020-01-13 15:07

The move, announced Jan. 13 by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), came on the first day of an administrative job action implemented after talks on a contract with the province broke down.

All teachers in publicly-funded Catholic district school boards will not report to work or perform any duties, OECTA said in a statement. 

“It has become clear that this government will only do the right thing when they are under pressure from Ontarians. They have left us little choice but to take the next legal step in the bargaining process,” says OECTA president Liz Stuart.

The province-wide one-day strike will be the first of its kind for Catholic teachers in more than 20 years, OECTA said.

“The government’s claim that this is a common occurrence is an insult to Ontarians’ intelligence,” said Stuart. “Negotiations are always tough, but teachers have only had to take this type of action when our rights and working conditions, and the learning conditions of our students, have been under direct attack.” 

After a scheduled two-day bargaining session lasted only a half-day on Jan. 10, the teachers commenced administrative job action Jan. 13 

“Our association has been able to work with the Catholic school trustees to make progress on a number of important issues, but thus far the government has not played a constructive role,” said Stuart. “The government has been firm that they have no intention of reconsidering their reckless, unpopular cuts.”

The union representing 45,000 teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the province’s English Catholic school system has met almost 40 times with provincial representatives and school trustees to work out a deal without coming to an agreement. Stuart accused the government of Premier Doug Ford of being “disorganized and disrespectful throughout the process, and they continue to insist on an agreement that includes significant cuts.” Stuart said the government is not interested in “engaging in any meaningful way.”

“Until we see some evidence to the contrary, Ontarians can only assume that this government actually has no intention of negotiating an agreement,” said Stuart.

The job action will follow in the footsteps of Ontario’s public high school teachers who have been holding rotating one-day strikes since before Christmas. Other teacher unions have also started job action or pledged to join in coming days.

OECTA members voted 97.1 per cent in favour of strike action in November. Its job action will see teachers refrain from preparing report cards, participating in EQAO-related activities and attending or participating in Ministry of Education initiatives until a deal is reached. Nor will they attend staff or departmental meetings and teachers will engage in self-directed professional development activities on PD days.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce expressed his disappointment after the brief talks with OECTA adjourned.

“Union-led escalation to a partial withdrawal of services, including targeting EQAO testing and report cards, hurts our children the most,” said the minister. “Parents are justifiably frustrated that teacher unions escalate every few years. That is why we are calling on the union to cease from escalating, and focus on reaching a deal that provides stability for our students.”

EQAO Grade 9 math assessment was set to begin Jan. 13 but has been postponed. 

“We know Minister Lecce and other members of the government will trot out their misleading talking points about union escalation, but the reality is that this type of widespread strike action is rare,” said Stuart, adding “teachers must do what is necessary to protect our rights and ensure quality education for all students, now and in the future.” 

The contentious points in negotiations between the province and its teachers remains what the union sees as “massive cuts” to the education system that will see an increase in class sizes. OECTA, along with three other unions, is challenging the class size changes during collective bargaining, arguing it violates bargaining rights.

“Catholic teachers call on the government to abandon their preoccupation with slashing spending, recognize that publicly funded education is an investment and finally get serious about working toward an agreement that protects our world-class education system,” said Stuart.

A Fraser Institute analysis, however, shows the province is looking to maintain spending levels, adjusted for inflation, each year through 2023-24.

The Ford government has been looking for savings since it came to power in 2018 to tackle a huge deficit left the province by the former Liberal government.

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