Durham, Toronto secondary school teachers are on strike after talks with the Durham District School Board failed. Every instructional activity for students in Grades 9 to 12 has been suspended since April 20, 2015, and the same applies for extracurricular activities, school events and field trips.
The teachers union is in legal strike position for seventeen days. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) accused the school board of “punitive micro-management of teachers’ professional lives.”
“This employer’s refusal to engage in real negotiations has really left us no option,” said Dave Barrowclough president of the District 13 OSSTF. “They refuse to enshrine in the collective agreement even language that would clearly enable us to improve our teaching practices.”
While salaries and sick leaves are handled at the provincial level, boards and teachers union issues in the district is managed locally. The province says teacher salary raises are impossible if teachers are not willing to offset the cost.
An estimated 24,000 public high school students in the Durham region are staying home as their teachers hit the picket line. The chair of the Durham District School Board said that talks between the board and the local union over the weekend were unsuccessful. However, there’s eagerness to resume talks:
“We’ll continue to work forward looking for compromise and hoping to be able to get both parties back to the table,” Michael Barrett said in a telephone interview according to CBC. “Without dialogue, we’re not going to be able to solve this and make sure we keep focused on our students.”
The teacher’s union local president Dave Barrowclough says teachers are not re-entering negotiations unless the board is willing to negotiate:
“What we need is a bargaining partner. If we had that, we would be quite happy to come back to the table and sit down and bargain this through,” Barrowclough said.
Liz Sandals, Canada’s Education Minister, has stepped in, saying in a statement that both parties must resume talks:
“I understand that parents and students in Durham face significant disruption as the result of a teachers’ strike and I encourage both sides to return to the bargaining table. The best way to avoid strikes and disruption is to reach an agreement. We are committed to staying at the central table to do that and encourage all local parties to reach negotiated local agreements,” Sandals said.
The education disruption will escalate as school boards in Peel, Halton and Ottawa “will be in a position to strike in the coming weeks” according to the CBC.
The union previously said it would only return to negotiations with the province and the school boards’ association when they “are ready to enter serious discussions.”
The teacher union said of the government and the Ontario Public Schools Boards’ Association:
“They do not appear to be serious about finding a reasonable way to resolve this collective agreement which has been expired now for eight months. Instead, they are provoking a crisis.”
Since 2012, contracts and wages for teachers were frozen through legislation, something that made unions upset, the Canadian Press says.