The Ford government is offering Ontario’s public elementary teachers a five-per cent pay increase over the next four years, Global News has learned, as contract talks between educators and the government continue.
Key details of confidential contract offers, leaked to Global News, shows a significant gap between the province’s position and that of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) on compensation, class sizes and remote learning.
While neither ETFO nor the Ford government was willing to discuss the details of the contract, citing a desire to keep the sensitive negotiations at the bargaining table, Global News has verified the authenticity of the ETFO document which lays out bargaining positions.
Here are the proposals from the union and government:
- ETFO, salary: Cost of living, plus a 1-per cent increase per year, over 4 years.
- ETFO, benefits: Funding increased to maintain benefits at current level.
- Government, salary: 1.25-per cent increase per year over 4 years.
- Government, benefits: No increase in funding.
The document states that ETFO negotiators want yearly salary increases to keep up with the rate of inflation over the next four years, while adding another one per cent on top of cost-of-living increase for its 83,000 members.
The union document doesn’t quantify the cost of living. The Consumer Price Index measure of inflation, however, rose between four and eight per cent over the course of the current contract negotiation — potentially leading to a huge pay hike if the government were to agree.
While the union didn’t comment on the details of the contract offers, ETFO President Karen Brown told Global News the request won’t be “exorbitant.”
“You start off with the cost of living currently, what that’s going to be. You look at projections over the next two or three years and you put forth a balanced number.” Brown said. “We’re not going to put something exorbitant.”
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By contrast, the Ford government is offering a yearly 1.25-per cent increase for full-time and occasional teachers for a period of four years.
The internal ETFO document notes that the government’s offer is “less that what was offered to and accepted by CUPE in November,” alluding to the 3.59-per cent wage increase given to Ontario’s education support workers after a bruising battle with the Ford government.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce, whose office declined an interview request with Global News, defended the government’s spending on education in a statement.
“Ontario’s government is funding education at historic levels, including $693 million more this year alone. Since forming government, we have also hired more than 7500 additional teachers and education staff, who are among the highest paid in Canada,” the minister said in a statement.
The NDP, however, called the government’s offer “insulting” after years of wage suppression under Bill 124.
“We depend on teachers in classrooms everyday to provide kids with the supports that they need,” said NDP education critic Chandra Pasma. “I would like to see the government negotiate in good faith with teachers.”
The document also indicates that the two sides are still nowhere close to finalizing a deal. ETFO lists 17 issues in its document, saying the government has only responded to eight issues and has not yet addressed the remaining nine.
One of the key points of contention surrounds elementary class sizes which the union document indicates aren’t being adequately controlled.
“After its reporting date in September, a board can increase class sizes beyond the primary cap,” the document states, adding that the union wants class size limits “maintained” throughout the school year.
The document lays out ETFO’s demands for different year groups:
- For Kindergarten, the union is proposing lowering the class size cap down to 26 students per teacher by the 2025 school year, with a designated early childhood educator “assigned to all kindergarten classrooms regardless of size.” The current kindergarten class cap is 29 students per teacher.
- For primary grades, the union is proposing 90 per cent of classes should have 20 or fewer students with no class exceeding 23 students.
- The union is also asking the government to place limits on the number of split classes in Grades 3 and 4, with limits of between 24 to 27 students per class.
The government has yet to present a counterproposal on class sizes, the document said.
The union is also looking to limit the use of remote and hybrid learning that the Ford government leaned on heavily during the pandemic during repeated provincial lockdown.
ETFO is proposing using remote learning in “exceptional emergency situations” and clarified that snow days and temporary school closures should not count as an emergency situation.
While the timeline for a negotiation is unclear, Lecce said the province wants to avoid a strike in the fall.
“Our focus is on ensuring students can be back in class this fall without disruption, which is why we have offered private mediation to some unions to help us move this negotiation along and get it done,” Lecce said.