TORONTO – The government will compensate parents affected by rotating teachers’ strikes, Ontario’s education minister said Wednesday as one union leader called the plan a “bribe” to win support during tense labour negotiations.
Parents whose kids aren’t yet enrolled in school but attend school-based child-care centres affected by the strikes will get the most money, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said, while those whose children are in grades 1 through 7 will get the least. Parents of secondary school students won’t get any funding, but those with children with special needs up to age 21 will get $40 per day.
Lecce said the funding is intended to “ensure students remain cared for” during the multiple labour actions being staged by the province’s four major teacher unions.
“It is a recognition of the costs that are being imposed on families by teacher unions,” he said. “It is, I believe, an incremental step to put some relief back in their pockets. For some parents, they’ve already faced those fiscal costs. There could be more given what has been intimated by some of … the teacher unions.”
The government said it spends approximately $60 million per day in teacher compensation across the entire education system. Lecce estimates the program to compensate parents could cost as much as $48 million per day if a full labour disruption across all systems were to occur.
Lecce defended the plan and its costs, saying parents need the assistance.
“I think it pales in comparison to people who don’t have vacation days and don’t have child-care options and are in a pretty difficult place today, let alone if this continues to escalate,” he said.
The measure comes as the union representing Ontario’s elementary teachers said it will hold a one-day strike at three school boards on Monday unless contract talks with the government progress.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said Wednesday it’s given five days notice to the provincial government that workers in Toronto, York Region and Ottawa-Carleton boards will walk off the job.
It said the strike will go ahead unless government representatives “get serious” about reaching a deal by Friday.
ETFO president Sam Hammond slammed the government plan and said Lecce’s energy would be better spent getting his negotiator back to the bargaining table.
“How insulting to parents in this province, that he’s trying to transparently bribe them for support,” he said.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the government plan disappointing.
“I wish this government would devote as much time and energy to actually doing what needs to be done to reverse the cuts that they’ve … put in place already as they have to this scheme,” she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government’s “cash-back program” is an attempt to distract parents from the ongoing labour disputes with teachers, who have been without contracts since August.
“What’s most important to parents is the quality of their kids’ education, and I think they will see through this ploy to pit them against teachers,” Schreiner said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation held its fifth rotating strike at schools in 16 boards on Wednesday.
OSSTF, which represents 60,000 teachers and education workers, began one-day walkouts on Dec. 4 with a job action that closed schools across the province.
It has followed up with weekly rotating strikes that have closed all secondary schools and some elementary schools at the affected boards. In addition to representing high school teachers, OSSTF represents education workers at some elementary schools.
Teachers were angered when the government announced that average high school class sizes would increase and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation. The government has since scaled back those proposals, but OSSTF president Harvey Bischof has said it’s not enough.
Lecce has repeatedly said the key sticking point in talks is compensation, with the union demanding a roughly two per cent wage increase and the government offering one per cent.