A Closer Look at the 2020 Ontario Teachers’ Strikes

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Since November 2019, Ontario families have faced school cancellations due to strike actions resulting from ongoing negotiation between the teachers’ unions and the Ontario government. Amid the disruptions and inconveniences, much is at stake to the future of the Ontario education system. To help gain a better understanding of the rationale behind these drastic actions, we provide in this article the background information of the collective bargaining process and highlight the issues under dispute.

How collective bargaining works for teachers

All Ontario teachers belong to a teachers’ union, which is an organization that represents teaching professionals in protecting their rights and interests. There are four major teachers’ unions representing 160,000 public school teachers in Ontario:

  1. Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)
  2. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)
  3. Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)
  4. Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

The terms of a teacher’s employment is dependent on the Collective Agreement, which is negotiated between each teachers’ union, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA), and the Ontario Ministry of Education through a collective bargaining process governed by Bill 122. These agreements generally expire every three years, with the last one expired on August 31, 2019.

As illustrated in this bargaining map from ETFO, the best case scenario is that every party agrees to the terms and strikes a tentative agreement. However, if the parties cannot come to terms, the teachers’ union can opt to take strike actions while negotiation continues. The latter leads to the current situation, with both sides taking a hard stance and faulting each other for the many strikes and disruptions to the school system.

The issues at stake​

Currently the teachers’ unions and the Ontario government do not see eye to eye with the changes proposed in the “Education that Works for You” plan and the recently passed Bill 124 which caps public sector wage increase at 1% per year. Here are the major issues at stake for the teachers:

  • Significant class size increase, especially for high school, with increase from 22 to 28 students per class
  • Mandatory e-learning of 4 credits for high school students
  • Insufficient special education and full-day kindergarten support
  • A change of teacher hiring rule by “merit” vs. seniority
  • A 1% wage increase cap which does not cover the cost of inflation at around 1.9%

The claim is that the various cuts will further overload the already stretched classroom resources, thereby negatively impacting the quality of the education that Ontario is known for.

Disruptions and negotiation updates

Since late November, there have been numerous work-to-rule and strike actions taken by teachers’ unions in protest of the Ontario government’s effort to negotiate. Work-to-rule refers to the job action of teachers doing only what is described in the official work responsibilities. Non-essential work such as EQAO prep, report card comments, off-hour support, and extracurricular activities are no longer performed. Students lose valuable after-school activities and valuable feedback regarding their performance at school. With the planned rotating and one-day strikes, parents have to scramble to make alternative arrangements for child care and keeping their children engaged during the day-offs.

Needless to say, parents and children are caught in the middle of a prolonged negotiation, and they are not thrilled about the disruptions and impacts to their daily work schedule. The Ontario government is offering daycare reimbursements to parents who are affected by the strike actions, which some say that they should instead focus on negotiating and coming to an agreement. In general, parents are supportive of the teachers’ intentions to maintain the quality of the school system and just wish that the strikes would end soon.

In recent days, the Ontario government has indicated willingness to revert the class size increase and e-learning changes to OSSTF, thus showing some goodwill to restart negotiation. On March 12, OECTA announced that they have reached a tentative deal and have suspended all planned strike action. As the terms remain confidential to the public, it is hard to gauge whether it fairs better for teachers and students. Negotiations have resumed for other unions except OSSTF, but with the ongoing disruptions in response to COVID-19, further talks will likely be delayed until April and beyond.

Doing what’s best for students amid ongoing talks and COVID-19

While the collective bargaining actions continue, the COVID-19 outbreak has unfortunately contributed to additional two weeks of school closure following March break. Depending on how the COVID-19 mitigation unfolds, students could potentially lose even more school days this year. At this point, we can only hope that the teachers’ unions and the Ontario government would soon come to terms in providing the best education to Ontario children, and ensuring the readiness to help students catch up as soon as the outbreak situation subsides.

For parents who are looking to provide continuous learning for their kids during times of social distancing, we have shared some excellent online resources in our latest blog post. TeachRequest is also ready to fill in the learning gaps with our focused, one-on-one tutoring services when it is deemed safe. Meanwhile we are also exploring the option of online tutoring. If you are interested in how we can help, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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