12/19/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 02/17/2013 05:12 EST

Bill 115 Protest Sees 4,800 Ontario Teachers Walk Off The Job


TORONTO - Education Minister Laurel Broten is advising the union representing public elementary school teachers to focus on local bargaining, not on more job action.

Broten also warns any strike action by teachers after Dec. 31 will be illegal.

She made the comments after the head of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario warned members would hold a province-wide day of protest in the New Year if the government uses the controversial Bill 115 to impose a contract on them.

Sam Hammond says the legislation is "an affront to the fundamental rights not only of educators but of all Ontarians."

The ETFO is holding a news conference Friday to announce details of its next steps in its ongoing labour dispute with the provincial government.

It caps two weeks of rotating one-day walkouts by the elementary teachers in protest of the legislation, which allows the government to ban strikes as well as impose contract agreements on teachers.

A spokeswoman for the union representing public high school teachers says its members are voting this week on whether to support a day of political protest against Bill 115.

Lori Foote of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation says the results should be known by Friday. No date has yet been set for a possible protest day, said Foote.

But Broten said she hopes any new moves by the ETFO will be to engage in local bargaining.

"That's what they said they wanted to do and that was their priority when they walked away from the provincial discussion table after less than one hour," Broten said.

"I would really encourage them to focus their efforts between now and the 31st on local bargaining."

"Let me be very clear," Broten said. "If we do not see negotiated agreements under the Putting Students First Act (Bill 115) we have the ability to put in place collective agreements."

Broten said there is still time for things to be worked out, even over the holidays.

"A lot can happen in two weeks," she said.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of elementary students in eight Ontario school boards — including the province's largest in Toronto — had no classes as their teachers staged one-day strikes. Protest rallies were held in Oshawa and in front of school board headquarters in Toronto.

More than 4,800 elementary school teachers with the Bluewater, Algoma, and Halton school boards staged their one-day walkout Wednesday.

The rotating teacher walkouts will have affected every public school board in the province by Thursday, when the job action spreads to school boards in southwestern, eastern and northwestern Ontario.

The government has so far decided to let the strikes happen as long as they are only for one day at each board.

Hammond has said Broten can end the rotating strikes by repealing Bill 115 and letting local bargaining proceed without interference.

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