Two Ontario teachers’ unions reach settlement with government on labour complaint about controversial policy

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Two of Ontario’s major teachers’ unions – The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) – said that they have reached settlements with the Ford government regarding a complaint the unions had filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board earlier this month.

Under the terms of the settlement, Ontario government confirmed to the unions that the use of a controversial Early Reading Screening Tool by teachers is no longer mandatory for the 2023-24 school year, a contentious issue which was a point of bargaining between the unions and the government.

On July 28, the provincial government issued Program/Policy Memorandum 168 (PPM 168), stating that Ontario teachers in publicly funded schools must complete annual early reading screenings for all students in Year 2 of Kindergarten through Grade 2, starting this school year. Early reading screening was to be used to assess a child’s reading levels in early school years.

ETFO and OECTA – that represent a combined number of 125,000 teachers across the province – asserted that by implementing this memorandum, the Ford government had violated the ongoing bargaining talks with the unions, as this issue has been a topic of discussion at the bargaining table.

The unions believe that PPM 168 infringes upon existing central agreements that include provisions confirming the ability of teachers to exercise their professional judgement when choosing and conducting diagnostic tests to meet student needs. According to the unions, PPM 168 prohibits those collective agreements because it required teachers to use a mandatory Early Reading Screener Tool, undermining their professional understanding of their students.

The unions have also said that the tool is unfair to students from different backgrounds.

As bargaining talks are still ongoing, the unions said that the implementation of PPM 168 went against the bargaining process by the government.

“Since bargaining for new central agreements is ongoing, a statutory freeze on collective agreement language
remains in effect. This means that the terms and conditions of ETFO and OECTA expired collective agreements
remain in force, and must be respected by the involved parties until a new collective agreement is reached,” the statement said.

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Ontario’s main four teachers’ unions – including ETFO and OECTA – have been without a contract for a year. In November last year, thousands of education workers went on a province-wide strike following a decision by the Ford government to impose a 4-year contract on them – and prevent them from going on strike.

In recent weeks, ETFO and OECTA announced that the unions will hold province-wide strike votes in the coming months as bargaining talks with the government had stalled and the teachers were entering another school year without a contract.

The province’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce had earlier expressed that another teachers’ strike was “unnecessary,” saying that Ontario government had been bargaining with the unions in “good faith.”

In the joint statement released today, the two unions said that the government had also committed to returning to the bargaining table to strike a fair contract with the unions.

“The government also commits to returning to the bargaining table to resolve the issue in good faith. The government will be issuing a memorandum to school boards to advise of the change in direction,” the statement said.

Rahat Sandhu

NEWS

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