As the battle over contracts rages on between Ontario’s high school teachers union and the provincial government ahead of a proposed one-day strike by educators on Wednesday, Global News speaks with both sides to get a better understanding of key issues being raised at the negotiating table.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) says no agreements have been reached with the province during bargaining and they have been “driven” to the one-day walkout.
However, both the union and the province said they are going to continue working towards reaching a deal.
Sources familiar with the negotiating positions of the Ontario government and the OSSTF, but not authorized to speak publicly, explained what the key points are with regards to teacher contracts during this round of collective bargaining.
OSSTF teacher salaries vary widely. Under the OSSTF’s pay scale effective on Aug. 31, the lowest starting salary for a teacher is $48,280. A teacher on the highest end of the pay scale and someone with more skills and seniority (10 years or more) makes $100,034 per year. Salaries vary within that range depending on skills and years of experience.
Teachers also have 11 sick days per year, 120 short-term leave days, but do not have vacation days, according to the OSSTF source. However, they have two weeks off during a Christmas break, a week during March break and two months during the summer.
The OSSTF source said the union is seeking an annual salary increase at the rate of inflation. In the previous agreement between the OSSTF and the province, salary increases varied throughout the agreement. But it reached a high of a two-per-cent increase during 2017.
According to Statistics Canada, the October inflation rate was 1.9 per cent.
However, the government source argued having an annual salary increase at the rate of inflation is both uncommon and potentially too costly — amounting to more than $1.5 billion over four years at a rate of two per cent.
The government source also said other public sector wage increases have been capped at one per cent with the adoption of Bill 124, which was passed in a bid to help trim the provincial deficit. They said there should not be an exception for teachers.
Meanwhile, the OSSTF source said teacher salaries have significantly lagged behind the rate of inflation in recent years, falling around eight per cent behind the rate of inflation over the past seven years.
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In March, the provincial government announced that funding models would be changed to account for a new ratio of 28 students per teacher from an average of 22 students per teacher. The new funding model started to be implemented in September. That number of students is an average, meaning class sizes can vary but should average out to that in each school.
Following backlash, the province has since announced they may be willing to change the funding model again — moving to an average of 25 students per teacher.
Both the union and the provincial government sources said the new class size funding model has not resulted in direct layoffs, but has resulted in new teachers not being hired once a teacher quits or retires.
The union wants the funding model back to a ratio of 22 students per teacher, arguing smaller class sizes are critical to student success.
On Sunday, Global News learned that parents who took part in government consultations on the issue also overwhelmingly rejected the changes.
The provincial government previously proposed making four e-learning credits mandatory for high school students across the province. But after criticism over the plan, the government backed down — changing it to a requirement of two e-learning credits for a high school diploma.
OSSTF officials said they want the e-learning requirement dropped completely. The union source told Global News they want research conducted to determine the effectiveness of e-learning before it is implemented as a mandatory requirement.
Meanwhile, the government argued that mandatory e-learning credits helps Ontario become a “global leader” of “modern and digital education.”
This topic is a particular point of contention between the two sides.
The OSSTF source said funding changes under the Doug Ford government have resulted in cuts to school boards across the province which have, in turn, led to “hundreds” of layoffs.
The government source said there has been an increase in education funding throughout the province and no cuts have been made. They said any job losses could possibly be attributed to changing enrollment numbers within some school boards.