POLITICS

Kathleen Wynne Says System Of Bargaining With Teachers Here To Stay

06/18/2015 03:50 EDT | Updated 06/18/2016 05:59 EDT
SARNIA, Ont. - Premier Kathleen Wynne says she's open to changes to the new school board bargaining process, but the two-tier system of central and local talks is likely here to stay.

This is the first round of negotiations to formally separate local and central bargaining under legislation the Liberal government brought in last year.

At the central tables, where monetary items are bargained, talks are stalled with both the public high school and elementary teachers, who have been on an administrative strike since May.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board ended three local strikes last month in the Toronto-area regions of Durham and Peel and the Sudbury-area Rainbow district after they were ruled illegal because they were at least partly about central issues.

The School Boards Collective Bargaining Act was intended to bring clarity to negotiations, but it came under fire at the labour board as not clear enough in some areas.

Speaking in Sarnia, Wynne said it's "entirely reasonable" to consider making changes to the legislation, but stopped short of suggesting a complete overhaul.

"In terms of there needing to be that central table and the local process, I think we're going to have to keep that fundamental structure in place."

Education Minister Liz Sandals has also said she would "certainly" consider changes to the legislation during a planned review.

Talks will continue over the summer, Wynne said, as she hopes school can start "smoothly" in September.

The province's major teachers' unions have all raised the possibility of strikes in the fall.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation has applied for conciliation, which could set the stage for a province-wide strike. Elementary teachers have threatened to escalate their work-to-rule campaign in the fall and have been publicly sparring with the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, which is also at the central table.

When contract negotiations began with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, both sides signed ground rules preventing them from discussing bargaining details in public.

But in light of an ad campaign and statements in the media by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, OPSBA said this week that the teachers' initial monetary position is over $3.2 billion, including a three-per-cent wage increase each year for three years plus a cost-of-living allowance.

ETFO president Sam Hammond fired back in a competing statement that his union has not formally tabled any salary positions at the central bargaining table.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association has said a strike is possible in September if no progress is made this summer.

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