Education Minister Laurel Broten says the provincial government and school boards have “tools to respond” to newly launched protests that call for some Ontario high school teachers to forgo administrative duties and other selected tasks.
Hours after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation announced that "strike actions" at 20 boards would begin after closed-door talks with the province collapsed during the weekend, Broten said the government was still gathering information about the impact of the protests.
"We're monitoring very closely and seeking information from our boards...to understand what is taking place," Broten told CBC News on Monday.
A bargaining bulletin on the OSSTF website says that among other actions, teachers will not attend staff meetings, communicate with parents outside school hours or fill in for absent colleagues.
The sanctions appear designed to disrupt administration of schools but not classrooms or extracurricular activities.
Jeff Brosseau, head of Windsor-Essex District of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, denied the move was a "publicity stunt."
“It’s going to be far less noticeable to the students than it will be for administrators," he told CBC News. "Teachers and educators will still be in the classroom working with the students.”
He also said teachers are hoping a settlement can be reached at the bargaining table.
“The door is still open for us to continue talks," he said. "Perhaps with a little more pressure the ministry would be more inclined to sit down and hammer through the last stumbling blocks, whatever they may be.”
'We're so close'
Ken Coran, the OSSTF president, said that those stumbling blocks can be overcome, provided that the government is willing to keep negotiating.
"Certainly the answer to all of this is what we’re saying: 'Let’s get back to that bargaining table, let's make all of this go away,'" Coran told CBC News on Monday.
"We’re so close, it doesn’t seem right that we’re not back there."
Broten calls the teachers' protests very disappointing, and says they will put students and families in the middle of the dispute.
The minister reminds teachers that the legislation that imposes the wage freeze also gives her the power to end any strike actions and impose a new contract drafted by the government.
Broten alluded to applying the legislation to end the strike actions Monday.
"[The boards] have tools to respond should they seek to," Broten said.
"We have tools to respond and we are working in partnership with our boards, with our school directors of education and with our principals and we will ensure that our students are safe, and if we need to act under the Putting Students First Act, we will do so."
The OSSTF represents 60,000 members and is among three unions protesting the Liberal government's wage freeze legislation, which also cuts benefits such as the right to bank sick days and cash them out on retirement.
Unions are taking the government to court, arguing the law is unconstitutional and violates collective bargaining rights.