Ontario Minister of Education Laurel Broten calls one-day strikes by the province's public elementary school teachers "inconvenient" but says she will not put a stop to them.
"It was a very difficult decision to make but we do have to recognize that the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is in a legal strike position. It was very disappointing for them to choose to put the students in the middle of a dispute with the government," Broten said Monday as teachers walked off the job in Hamilton, Sudbury and James Bay.
One-day, rotating elementary teacher walkouts hit southwestern Ontario tomorrow.
Teachers are protesting Bill 115, the Putting Children First Act, which prevents teachers from striking and imposes a wage freeze.
"I carefully weighed the balance of legal strike action and the need for students and parents to have stability in their schools. With one-day — and one-day only — strikes on 72 hours notice, that’s the right balance," Broten said.
"They are challenging the Putting Students First Act in court and we respect their right to do that," Broten said of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario. "But this will be resolved in the courts and not in our classroom."
Province 'can't afford pay increase,' minister says
Broten said the province had no choice but to pass the act, "given the province's fiscal realities."
"We choose all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes and to keep teachers employed," Broten said. "We cannot afford pay increases at this time and that is something that is firm in the province’s perspective."
Parents of public elementary school students in Windsor have until Tuesday morning to make childcare arrangements. That's when approximately 3,000 full- and part-time teachers will walk off the job in Windsor, Essex County, Chatham Kent, Sarnia and Lambton County.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario served its official 72-hour strike notice Saturday in Windsor, Essex, Sarnia and Chatham.
Broten said the strikes, which began last week, do nothing to move negotiations between public elementary teachers and province forward. Ontario's Catholic boards, both high school and elementary, have new deals and aren't affected. French boards have also agreed to a new collective agreement with the province.
"One day of strike action doesn’t move us any closer to local agreements," Broten said.
In a media release, the union said it is sending the government a message that Bill 115 is "severely impeding local collective bargaining."
“To date, the education minister has yet to do anything to assist local school boards in pursuing fair and respectful negotiations with our members,” said Sam Hammond, president of ETFO. “She can end the chaos she has created by repealing Bill 115 and letting local bargaining proceed without interference.”
School board calls strike 'challenging'
The Greater Essex District School Board spent the weekend trying to contact parents to let them know schools will be closed Tuesday.
Scott Scantlebury, who speaks for the board, said parents were notified immediately but that weekend announcements make it hard to get the word out quickly.
"It's been challenging. Having received the official notification on a Saturday has made it more so because people may not be home to receive a phone message," Scantlebury said. "We were unable to send official confirmation home Friday."
The City of Windsor will help parents during the strike Tuesday. Its parks and recreation department will offer one day camps for all public elementary school students.
Oakwood, Optimist and Forest Glade community centres all open up at 7:30 a.m. and start programs at 9 a.m.and close at 5:30 p.m.
The centres will have sports, games and crafts for all children aged four to 13 and costs $29 per child. Parents can register online at the City of Windsor's website.
The city says it will run more day camps if more teacher strikes are announced.
The school board says there will be no school busses running for elementary students Tuesday, but it's service as usual for high school students.
The board also says most daycares and before- and after-school programs in elementary schools will be open, as long as they are run by third party providers.
Teachers in Hamilton, Sudbury and James Bay walk the picket lines Monday.