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Ontario elementary teacher strikes to hit three school boards as contract talks resume

Teachers with ETFO picket in Toronto for the one-day strike action. (Jan. 20, 2020). Jamie Mauracher / Global News

TORONTO – Renewed contract talks between Ontario’s public elementary teachers and the government entered a second day Thursday, with the clock ticking toward a union-imposed deadline to ramp up their strike action.

Meanwhile, in another crack in the teacher-government stalemate, the province’s English Catholic teachers announced that they would return to the bargaining table after talks broke off earlier this month.

The province and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario returned to the bargaining table Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 19. Both sides were tight lipped about the discussions.

“We are having productive discussions with ETFO,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said. “The objective of the government is to get a deal. We want that stability for students and for parents in the province and for educators themselves.”

READ MORE: How will the Ontario teachers’ strikes affect students’ learning? Experts weigh in

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Elementary teachers have been holding one-day, rotating strikes for two weeks, but next week they are planning to walk out at each board twice a week if no deal is reached by Friday.

They plan to hold provincewide strikes once a week – with the first one set for Feb. 6 – and each board will be hit by a one-day rotating strike as well.

High school teachers announced Thursday that they would resume their weekly rotating strikes, after not holding any during this week’s exam period. On Tuesday, boards targeted by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation include Lakehead, Lambton Kent, Thames Valley, Waterloo Region, York Region, Halton and Kawartha Pine Ridge.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association has also announced that it will hold a one-day, provincewide strike on Tuesday. It will be their second.

Click to play video: 'PR battle over public education in Ontario' PR battle over public education in Ontario
PR battle over public education in Ontario – Jan 24, 2020

Union president Liz Stuart said they have agreed to return to the bargaining table on Monday, but the Tuesday strike is still on, for now.

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“We are pleased to be getting back to negotiations,” she said in a statement. “However, it remains to be seen how serious the discussions will be.”

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation does not have talks scheduled with the government. The union representing French teachers has had two days of bargaining this week.

Teachers’ unions, particularly the three representing secondary teachers, are opposed to class size increases and mandatory e-learning requirements imposed by the government. The Tories announced last March that average secondary school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.

READ MORE: Strikes close all Ontario Catholic schools, some public elementary and high schools

The province has since scaled back those increases, to an average class size of 25 and two e-learning courses, but the unions say that’s not good enough.

Lecce has framed compensation as the key issue for all teachers’ unions.

Unions are asking for wage increases around two per cent to keep up with inflation, but the government passed legislation last year capping wage increases for all public sector workers to one per cent for three years. The teachers’ unions and several others are fighting it in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

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ETFO president Sam Hammond has said he hopes the government negotiators have a mandate to remove further cuts, increase supports for students with special needs, address violence in classrooms, preserve the current kindergarten model and maintain fair and transparent hiring practices.

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