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Ontario reaches tentative deal with public high-school teachers

The Ontario government has reached a tentative agreement with its public high-school teachers’ union to extend the current contract.

The Ontario government has reached a tentative agreement with its public high-school teachers' union to extend the current contract, the last education union to do so.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said on Thursday that it had agreed on a deal to extend its contract for teachers and support staff by two years.

If deals with all education unions are ratified, it will mean that Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is in the fight of her life to win voters, won't have to contend with labour disputes in schools during the coming election.

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Education Minister Mitzie Hunter described the discussions with OSSTF as "extremely collaborative and productive."

All collective agreements with education workers in the province were to expire in August, and even a one-year extension would have given the Liberals labour peace during an election, which is expected to be held in the spring of 2018.

Only after The Globe and Mail revealed last September that the government was in discussions to extend the contract with the OSSTF did the Liberals confirm they had offered extensions to all unions that were part of a lawsuit against the province over Bill 115, a 2012 piece of legislation that imposed contracts on education workers and suspended their right to strike. The OSSTF, ETFO and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, among others, won a court ruling last year deeming Bill 115 unconstitutional. The unions were discussing compensation with the province; the contract extension was an option the government put on the table.

In its agreement with the government, the OSSTF also reached a remedy on its Bill 115 lawsuit.

Paul Elliott, president of the OSSTF, declined comment on Thursday, saying that he will speak following the ratification vote on the contract extension and lawsuit remedy.

Two other unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents educational assistants, early childhood educators and custodians, and French-language teachers, recently ratified their two-year contract extensions with the government.

The deal with CUPE includes a 4-per-cent wage increase over two years. That is similar to tentative deals the government has reached with other education unions, including public elementary school teachers and Catholic teachers.

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The tentative agreement with the Catholic teachers also includes more supports for students with special needs, and, according to news reports, the government has agreed to cap kindergarten classes at 30 students in its tentative deal with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario. The current agreement ended a tough series of negotiations with all education-worker unions, during which the OSSTF held strikes at school boards in the Toronto area and in Northern Ontario, and the government legislated teachers back to work.

Wrestling a deficit, the province insisted all labour deals be "net zero," meaning something must be cut to offset the cost of raises.

But Ms. Wynne recently indicated that she was ready to loosen the purse strings for the next round of talks with public-sector unions.

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About the Author
Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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