TORONTO - Most Ontario high school teachers are putting off job action that would have seen them skip staff meetings and sit out standardized tests.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation had instructed its members who are in a legal strike position to take what it calls "administrative" job action on Wednesday, but said it's postponing the sanctions until just before midnight Sunday.
The union has been talking with the government in the "interest of going forward and seeking resolutions to the challenges facing the education sector," OSSTF president Ken Coran said late Tuesday in a release.
The union plans to meet with government officials on Wednesday to "fast track to potential resolutions," he said.
OSSTF, which represents about 60,000 members, is among three unions which have been fuming over the new anti-strike law brought in by the cash-strapped Liberal government, which also cuts benefits and freezes the wages of senior teachers.
Passed with the help of the Progressive Conservatives, the law cuts benefits and freezes wages for the majority of the union members while still letting younger teachers move up the salary grid.
It also allows the government to impose its own agreement if it doesn't like what the unions and school boards negotiate together.
Four unions are taking the government to court, arguing the law is unconstitutional and violates collective bargaining rights.
Education Minister Laurel Broten said she's pleased the OSSTF has decided to delay strike action and "focus on finding solutions" with the government and school boards, who are the employers.
"We're looking forward to further discussions in the days ahead," Broten said in a statement late Tuesday.
But Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak said the union should call off the planned labour sanctions permanently, calling it a "betrayal" of the teaching profession.
"They're just dead wrong," he said Wednesday. "They should not mess with our kids' education to score political points."
But he also blamed the minority Liberals for making "a mess" of education.
Education was supposed to be how the Liberals were going to define themselves, their "flagship" program, Hudak said.
But after nine years, they've thrown about $6 billion more in an education system that has about 250,000 fewer kids, but results — particularly in math — have actually stagnated or declined, he said.
If no agreement is reached with high-school education workers, parents could see teachers not performing tasks like submitting student attendance or participating in curriculum or course writing.
There were also worries of that students would face long delays to get their grades, since the school boards would need to hire extra help to input them in the school's computer system.
Twenty-seven bargaining units in eight school boards would be affected, including the Toronto District School Board.
But the union had instructed teachers to still provide instruction, do course preparation and marking and provide extra help.
Some teachers who aren't necessarily in a strike position have already withdrawn from voluntary activities such as coaching and parent-teacher meetings in protest of the controversial law.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has advised its 76,000 members to write only the bare minimum on report cards.
But the governing Liberals have warned that the new law — the source of the dispute with the teachers — gives them the power to intervene in any job action.
Broten has said that the government could impose a new collective agreement, effectively ending any strike action. It could also intervene outside of imposing an agreement.
The affected boards include: Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Upper Grand District School Board, Wellington Catholic District School Board, Halton District School Board, Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, Waterloo Region District School Board and Upper Canada District School Board.