Education union accuses Ford government of ‘fear-mongering’ | Canadian

The union representing Ontario’s elementary teachers is accusing the provincial government of “fear-mongering” as an early war of words breaks out between the Ford government and education unions.

On Monday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce laid out the government’s expectations for the upcoming school year, insisting that students have access to regular in-class lessons, along with extracurricular activities.

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Ontario education minister wants extracurriculars offered in September

“We are signalling our clear intent to have those services, those experiences restored, and to support children, and we know that educators care deeply about their kids, they will do the right thing and ensure that those experiences are put back for kids.”

While the comments came after two years of government-mandated school closures — largely due to COVID-19 — Lecce seemed to direct his statements to Ontario’s education unions, which are in the beginning stages of contract negotiations with the province.

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The minister’s comments, however, were met with a sharp rebuke from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which accused Lecce of trying to “create a crisis where none exists.”

“His goals seem to be agitation and division,” ETFO president Karen Brown said in a statement. “Minister Lecce is needlessly engaged in fear-mongering.”

Brown said the ETFO’s 83,000 members — which includes public school elementary teachers — “will be in schools” when they reopen in September despite union contracts expiring on Aug. 31.

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Ontario government, education union begin contract negotiations

Laura Walton, who represents the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, told Global News this week it’s “premature” for the minister to raise any concerns about school closures because the contract talks are in their infancy.

According to the province’s own laws governing collective bargaining, in order for a strike to occur, unions and the employer have to meet certain thresholds.

Once the contract expires and negotiations break down, both sides would be required to meet with a Ministry of Labour conciliation officer and receive a “no-board” report before a union is legally allowed to strike 17 days later.

Unions are also legally required to hold a strike vote and can only stage a walkout if a majority of members vote in favour of job action.

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The province’s education unions point out that none of these requirements have been met, meaning there is little to no risk of school disruptions in September.

“You can’t even call for strike votes more than 30 days before the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement and we wouldn’t call for a strike vote before folks are back at work,” Walton said.

“We will be back.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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