TORONTO – Ontario elementary teachers and some support staff will have their pay docked if they don’t stop their work-to-rule campaigns, the premier announced Friday, as the elementary teachers threatened to withdraw from extracurriculars.
Bargaining with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the unions representing some support staff will resume after representatives met Friday with Premier Kathleen Wynne. She has given them until Nov. 1 to stop their work-to-rule campaigns or they will face sanctions.
“Children’s lives are being negatively affected, so parents and families are understandably frustrated,” Wynne said. “Schools are increasingly dirty and activities that are important to students and parents such as completion of report cards are not taking place.”
The school boards have requested consent from the government to dock the pay of teachers and staff who are withdrawing services.
The government won’t give that permission until Nov. 1, which would then trigger five days’ notice of the impending action, Wynne said.
“If by Nov. 1 one of two things has not happened, then government will give permission: either tentative agreements are reached and all job actions are stopped, or all job actions are stopped and do not resume as talks continue.”
Wynne said she hopes deals can be reached by then because “eight days is a long time in the world of bargaining.” The government is not considering imposing contracts, she said.
ETFO president Sam Hammond said his members won’t respond to threats. They’re not backing down from their extracurricular withdrawal next week even though bargaining is resuming, he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called Wynne’s deadline a “distraction” from controversy surrounding a $2.5-million payout to teachers’ unions – the ones the government has already reached deals with – to compensate for extra costs during lengthy negotiations.
“They know that it’s being widely decried around the province on every talk radio, every newspaper and TV show,” he said. “People are upset with the government. They think it’s inappropriate…No one believes you’re simply going to ballpark or guess what $1 million means in negotiation costs. It’s disrespectful to taxpayers.”
Education Minister Liz Sandals said Thursday that the government didn’t ask for receipts or invoices before the money was given to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the French teachers’ union.
The negotiations were so lengthy this round because of a new system the Liberal government introduced. There is a cost associated, said Wynne, but why it’s up to the government to pay the unions’ costs, she didn’t say.
“The fact is the government isn’t covering all of the costs,” she said.
It’s not the first time the government has given the unions some compensation. There were “supports” in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Sandals said, though she refused to say how much.
Wynne was education minister during one of those negotiations, but she couldn’t say how much was paid to the unions then.
As the government tries to eliminate a multi-billion-dollar deficit it has said there is no new money for public sector compensation. The $2.5 million was factored into the net-zero nature of the teachers’ contracts, Wynne said, though she didn’t know where that money came from.
“I don’t know the details well enough,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “But it didn’t come from student programming.”
She also couldn’t say whether the government has compensated other public sector unions for negotiation costs.
“I can’t give you that information because I don’t know. I don’t know the details of that,” she said.
“I’m not saying we’re not aware of it, I’m just saying I don’t have the numbers in my hand.”
Government staff later said it doesn’t provide support to unions bargaining for workers directly employed by the Ontario government, but for the broader public sector, “this type of information is not contained in collective agreements and there is no central place where this information is tracked.”
OSSTF president Paul Elliott said it is always part of the compensation package.
“It’s been part of the process as long as I’ve been doing this and it’s really nothing new,” he said. “It’s not a sweetener. It’s part of the whole complete bargaining process.”
– with files from Keith Leslie