Parents in Ontario, Canada will have a fairly short window in which to make alternative arrangements for their school-aged kids this December, as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has announced that it will give just a 72-hour notice prior to going on strike. In a statement, ETFO President Sam Hammond said that it was unfortunate that the union members were put in a position to walk off their jobs, but felt that it was inevitable in light of the recent passage of Bill 115.
According to the ETFO, Bill 115 strips the union of many of its collective bargaining rights, and vests in Education Minister Laurel Broten power to force agreement upon the teachers should their talks with provincial and local school districts fail to produce results by the end of the year.
“The bill puts the government beyond the reach of the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario Labour Relations Act, and the courts,” Hammond said. “On November 11th, the government invited ETFO to discussions with Ministry officials and a third party facilitator. ETFO and government representatives were engaged in productive talks when the Minister abruptly shut the session down.
Although Hammond seemed to imply that a strike was all but inevitable, he left the door open for an agreement to be reached through further talks. He said that the union stood ready to continue discussions with Broten, but only if the Minister appeared willing to consider a more equitable approach to the process.
The ETFO membership is made up of 76,000 elementary school teachers and other education professionals. It is the largest teachers union in the country.
Meanwhile, education officials are saying that should the teachers walk off the job, they are prepared to take all measures open to them to “respond.” Although the power to compel teachers to return to work was given to Broten under Act 115, it is yet unclear if she will make use of it in case the strike actually goes off.
Elementary teachers in a legal strike position are expected to walk off the job next month, escalating their job action just withdrawing from administrative duties. The hope of negotiated settlements to end the labour strife in Ontario schools is growing dimmer, as the union representing public high school teachers also broke off all negotiations with school boards until further notice.
Speaking after the union announcement, Broten wouldn’t commit outright to making use of the new powers, but in the statement she reassured parents that the officials had “tools” to ensure that schools remain open.