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High-school teachers abandon talks with McGuinty government

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is seen in this 2011 file photo.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's high-school teachers have followed the lead of their elementary-school counterparts and abandoned bargaining talks with the provincial government.

"Right now, unless we see a revised position from the government, then we won't be returning to the table," Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation president Ken Coran said Monday.

The OSSTF's position comes after two days of intense discussions last week that resulted in no compromises. And it comes as Premier Dalton McGuinty's government faces its first showdown with labour: disgruntled elementary teachers have already walked away from the bargaining table, and a fight has been brewing between the government and the province's doctors. High-school teachers filed a legal challenge against the government last week for its hardball approach to collective bargaining.

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Faced with a $15.3-billion deficit, the government is on a path to rein in spending. Instead of sitting down to negotiate with teachers, the government simply tabled its offer: a pay freeze for two years, no movement within the existing salary grid, an end to retirement payouts for unused sick days.

Mr. Coran said the union put forward a proposal that includes a wage freeze for two years and a plan to encourage senior teachers to retire, which would save the province millions of dollars. There was nothing in the proposal about the salary grid or sick days.

"They didn't seem receptive to our proposal at all," Mr. Coran said.

Premier Dalton McGuinty stressed the importance of everybody remaining at the bargaining table.

"Some of the best political advice I ever got, I got from my mother on my wedding day," Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Monday. "She said, 'whatever happens, keep talking,' so I say to my friends the teachers, I say to my friends the doctors, and everybody with whom we are going to have to engage in difficult conversations, that it's important we keep talking."

The unions representing elementary teachers have already indicated that they will engage in contract talks with individual school boards. Mr. Coran said high-school teachers will go that route, as well.

"We've been concerned from day one with the lack of consultation and collaboration," he said. "If they're seemingly married to the components of what was in the Ontario budget, and if they intend that those will be the criteria that must be in the collective agreement, then we're going to have problems."

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Education Minister Laurel Broten has repeatedly said that the best place to find solutions is at the bargaining table.

With a file from Karen Howlett

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Education Reporter

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

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