TORONTO – Union leaders representing public school teachers are holding parents hostage and hurting Ontario’s economy, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.
Ford vowed to resist union demands for a two per cent wage increase, which the government says is a key issue in stalled negotiations with the teachers, who have been without a contract since August.
“They don’t have good leadership, the head of the unions,” Ford told a news conference. “They want to argue, no matter what premier, no matter what government is in power.”
All four unions representing teachers and education workers in Ontario are engaged in various job actions, including rotating strikes and work-to-rule campaigns.
Ford’s comments came on the same day as the union representing elementary teachers said its second day of rotating strikes will occur on Tuesday, affecting four boards – Grand Erie, Trillium Lakelands, Renfrew, and Superior-Greenstone.
Ontario’s French school system also started a work-to-rule campaign Thursday that will see teachers no longer completing some administrative duties.
The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’
Federation said Ford’s comments were an attempt to drive a wedge between union members and their leaders.
“This is a tired old tactic from this premier to try to pretend there’s a division between the membership and the leadership,”
Harvey Bischof said. “I challenge him again, if he believes I’m not properly representing the wishes of the members, to exercise his right to have my members vote on their contract proposals.”
Ford said parents support his government in the tense labour negotiations.
“One parent I saw (Wednesday) said the teachers are holding us hostage,” Ford said. “Let me repeat that: The head of the unions are holding the parents hostage, not the teachers.”
The Progressive Conservative government has passed legislation capping public sector wage increases at one per cent, something the unions are challenging in court and opposing at the bargaining table. The government is grappling with a $7.4-billion deficit and Ford said the pay cap is necessary.
The premier urged union leaders to be responsible, adding that the labour disruptions were hurting the economy because many parents were not able to work.
“It probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
Where are Ontario teachers striking next?
“We either stay stagnant and roll over, like the previous Liberal government did and give the unions whatever they want, or we be responsible and respect the taxpayers’ money and be fair,” Ford said.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser criticized Ford for disparaging the union’s leadership, saying he should instead order his negotiating team back to the bargaining table.
“It’s just a ploy to try to divide people,” Fraser said.
“Parents and teachers deserve much more from the premier.”
Teachers were outraged last year when the Ford government announced that average high school class sizes would increase and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation. The government has since scaled back those plans, but union officials have said it’s not enough.
On Wednesday, the government announced plans to compensate parents of children affected by rotating strikes in a move union leaders called a bribe.
Under the plan, parents whose kids aren’t yet enrolled in school but attend school-based child-care centres affected by the strikes will get up to $60 per day, while those with children in Grade 1 through 7 will get $40 per day. Only parents of secondary school students with special needs will receive up to $40 per day.
The government said that as of Thursday morning, more than 33,000 parents had applied for the compensation.
-With a file from Nicole Thompson
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