07/14/2015 12:32 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 01:12 EDT

No contract talks scheduled to avert possible teachers' strikes in Ontario

TORONTO — There are no contract negotiations scheduled to head off possible strikes by tens of thousands of Ontario teachers this fall, and the government admits talks are at an impasse.

Several teachers' unions suggest strikes are possible in September, blaming class sizes, control over preparation time and hiring practices as the issues that stalled the negotiations.

The Ontario Public School Boards Association, which negotiates on behalf of the government, says it is ready to return to talks but can't get the teachers' unions to come back to the table.

Association president Michael Barrett says he's not surprised to see the September start of classes become a bargaining chip in the stalled negotiations.

The Progressive Conservatives say the Liberals are mistaken if they think the unions will cave in, and worry students and their parents will have to scramble to find alternate arrangements in September if teachers do strike.

The union representing 50,000 teachers in Catholic schools says its members will be in a legal strike position by mid-August and will begin enhanced work-to-rule actions on the first day of classes in September.

Anne Hawkins, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, says teachers will be notified next month what form the job action will take if there are still no contract talks scheduled.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, which represents 76,000 teachers in public schools, began a work to rule campaign in May. ETFO president Sam Hammond says the union will return to talks only if the government removes "offensive" proposals such as removing the limits on class sizes.

The School Boards Association says ETFO's demands alone would cost an additional $3.2 billion.

Education Minister Liz Sandals says there is no money in the provincial budget for teacher wage hikes unless the unions offset the costs by giving up something else.

Contract talks with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which represents 60,000 high school teachers, broke off in May, but they have applied for conciliation, and the boards say that means talks could be scheduled in August.

The contracts for all Ontario teachers expired last August.

More than 70,000 public high school students were out of school for weeks this spring due to teachers' strikes in the Toronto and Sudbury areas, which were eventually ruled illegal by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

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Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press