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Dalton McGuinty warns teachers who haven’t signed new contracts

Rob Ferguson and Richard J. Brennan, Louise Brown
Queen’s Park Bureau, Education Reporter

Teachers who have refused to sign new contracts with the government got a warning from Premier Dalton McGuinty that the government will act soon to end “uncertainty” in education.

After several weeks of one-day rotating strikes by public elementary teachers and a ban on extra-curricular activities by both them and high school teachers, the premier sent a four-page open letter to educators Wednesday.

Ontario teachers are among the highest-paid in North America and have better working conditions,” McGuinty said the day before Education Minister Laurel Broten holds a news conference to outline her “path forwardunder Bill 115, which allows the government to impose contracts on teachers and school boards as of Jan. 1.

Public teacher unions say the law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by curbing their collective bargaining rights and are challenging it in court, a process that could take years.

“Our preference has always been one of negotiated settlements. But after 10 months, the bargaining deadline has passed,” McGuinty added.

“Ontarians expect, rightly, that uncertainty will not continue indefinitely.”

McGuinty noted 55,000 Catholic and French-language teachers have already agreed to deals that froze pay for most of them — and pointed out their unions convinced the government to allow junior teachers to continue moving up the salary grid.

And he reminded the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation that the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing school support workers, agreed just days ago to a new contract with wage freezes after 30 hours of bargaining over the holidays.

Citing a “stubborn deficit” of $ 14 billion that must be eliminated, McGuinty said the pay freeze and reduced sick days already agreed to by Catholic and French-language teachers are “fair given the province’s circumstances.”

“Instead of pay raises, we chose to protect programming, such as full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes and to protect the jobs of 10,000 teachers and 10,000 support staff.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who has called for across-the-board pay freezes, said Wednesday that the solution is to impose contracts immediately under Bill 115.

Otherwise, parents and students will be in the dark when classes resume on Monday.

“Who is running the education system? Is it the government that is running it as it should be, or is it the teachers’ union?” Hudak told reporters.

“We owe it our kids and parents to fix that problem. Contracts should be imposed, it has taken far too long. Why else would you pass a bill if you are not going to use it?”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario declined to comment on the premier’s letter, with a spokesperson saying president Sam Hammond will wait until Thursday to comment after hearing Broten’s statement.

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the timing of McGuinty’s open letter was “seemingly odd, the day before an announced minister’s press conference, but it’s certainly a communications strategy — sort of a follow-up on the premier’s video last spring about the education sector.”

McGuinty had made a YouTube video in March pitching the idea of an education sector wage freeze.

However Coran said he had no quarrel with the actual content of McGuinty’s letter. “It’s almost like a synopsis of the last 11 months and I don’t think any of it will come as a surprise to our members; we’ve been keeping them pretty informed.

“The reality is, the best way to keep labor peace in the province is to resolve things at the negotiating table.”

thestar.com – News