It turns out that the global pandemic has become great news for the Ontario government looking to end a school year of labour strife with workers and teachers. The Ministry of Education has secured a tentative deal with the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), which is the third of four teachers’ unions to end their job action with a new contract.
“Our Government is pleased to announce a tentative deal has been reached between the Crown, AEFO teachers, and the school board trustees’ associations,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education in a statement. “During this unprecedented time, we are committed to providing stability for our students and staff through the deal reached with French-language educators.”
No details have been released about the contract, but Lecce said that it will help to preserve lower class sizes, enhance special education support, and protect full-day kindergarten.
“Above all, AEFO wishes to thank its 12,000 members (teachers and occasional teachers),” said AEFO President Remi Sabourin in his own statement. “Their encouragement and solidarity supported our efforts throughout a particularly laborious round of negotiations. We also thank parents and those who joined the fight to safeguard the success of Franco-Ontarian students and the excellence of the public education system in Ontario.”
With the AEFO deal secure, that only leaves the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) as the proverbial odd man out in terms of new contracts. OSSTF has not been at the bargaining table since before the new year, but that union’s president Harvey Bischof told the CBC that he and his team have been more focused on responding to COVID-19, and the effects on their students’ education, than getting a new deal.
“We’ve all been very focused on trying to do the best we can under these current circumstances … for us, right now, that’s been a higher priority because we’re in the midst of unprecedented circumstances,” Bischof said.
Both the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) secured new deals earlier this month. The Catholic teachers are expected to vote on their contract next week, while the elementary school teachers will vote on theirs at the end of April. No official details from either contract have yet to be released.
In terms of the unofficial, the Canadian Press is reporting on a memo they obtained that was sent to ETFO members. Among the revelations is that while the Ministry of Education held fast on the maximum one per cent hike to salary, they approved a four per cent hike in benefits for ETFO teachers. The agreement also has a Support for Students fund, which will help the union create 434 positions for areas like special education and mental health.
The government also didn’t secure any regulation to end seniority-based hiring, which was one of their goals in negotiations, but there also no language in the deal that bars the government from addressing it later.
Ontario teachers across all four unions have been working without a contract since August 31.