All four of the teacher’s unions for publicly funded schools in Ontario have been taking some kind of job action in protest to proposed changes to education funding by the provincial government. Their main concerns regard the Ford government’s plan to increase class sizes, introduce mandatory e-learning, and reduce funding for more vulnerable students. The unions also want a two percent salary increase in line with other government workers.
In the beginning of November 2019, 98 per cent of the EFTO – Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario members voted to take strike action, and by mid-November the OECTA – The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association also voted take strike action soon followed by the OSSTF – The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
When asked if these strikes were about compensation, a secondary school teacher with the English public board in Oakville responded that first and foremost she believes teachers are well paid but that should not exclude them from a cost of living increase. “Of course, compensation is important and if we value quality education for our province’s youth, then we should place value on fair and sufficient compensation for those who work in the system,” she said.
The first job action of work-to-rule began late November when teachers would no longer supervise extra-curricular activities outside of school hours, shutting down drama clubs, sports teams and school trips. They would no longer be participating in anything more than what is in their contract with a hope to pressure the government at the bargaining table.
Raya, a grade six student from Oakville, had been looking forward to a three-day school trip to Mansfield. This was to be her first time away from home with school friends. Unfortunately, due to this work to rule action her trip was cancelled and she is disappointed that she will be missing out on this opportunity.
Haaris a grade eight student from Palermo public school had been excited all year for an upcoming ski trip which had to be cancelled. There aren’t many school trips which involve going away for a few days to have some fun so for this trip to be cancelled was very unfortunate.
In December the OSSTF began a one-day province wide walkout which other boards soon followed with rotating weekly strikes which have continued into January and February 2020.
Despite the Ontario government offering subsidies of up to $60 a day to those affected by the rotating strike actions, parents are still struggling to find childcare for their children with just a few days’ notice. Many others have to work from home or take unpaid leave which could affect their jobs.
A lady who works in community health education around addiction prevention and treatment said that parents of elementary school age children feel the rolling strikes are inconvenient for their families due to the challenges of finding child care; a couple of them have said they wish the union would just “go on full strike” as it would make it easier to arrange and plan for extended child care.
Parents of high-school students seem to be caught in the middle of this dispute; while many appear to support the teachers’ stance against mandatory e-learning and increased class sizes, they are anxious about the academic impacts to their children’s school year with the rotating strikes. This is especially troubling for parents of grade 12 students who are currently preparing for graduation and post-secondary education. The uncertainty around the school year needing to be extended is a concern for them, as too is the lack of feedback on report cards about their children’s progress.
During question time in February, Doug Ford argued, “We’ve increased education by $1.2 billion, I know math is not the NDP’s strength, or the Liberals’, but it’s $1.2 billion, more than any government in the history of Ontario,” but many are saying the numbers just don’t add up.
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce also claims he wants kids back in school. He has mentioned a number of times on his twitter account that it’s all about the kids. “Teacher union leaders should not delay, kids are paying the price. It’s time for a deal” he said.
For now, parents across Ontario largely support teachers in this ongoing dispute. It remains to be seen if this support will continue as the teachers’ job actions start to have a larger impact on their students’ academic records.