Ontario union in binding arbitration voices similar concerns, solidarity with Sask. teachers

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix As part of a one-day strike across Saskatchewan, teachers in Saskatoon rallied on Jan. 16 at three locations, including Midtown Plaza.

“It’s a future problem we all have an interest in solving and I don’t understand why governments don’t see that.”

Angela Amato

Regina Leader-Post

As Saskatchewan teachers resume work-to-rule job action in a fight for gains at the bargaining table, an Ontario union is shedding light on how its own contract dispute landed in binding arbitration.

Following the ratification of a tentative agreement, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) recently sent several other bargaining issues to binding arbitration after 90 per cent of its members voted in favour in March. Similar to Saskatchewan, their members’ main concerns involve classroom size and complexity.

“The needs for kids are still there, and the needs are so deep,” OECTA president René Jansen in de Wal said in an interview Monday. “The cuts have been so big and the government isn’t prepared to address them.”

Last week, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) rejected a request for binding arbitration from the government-trustee bargaining committee (GTBC), saying they wanted to continue to build on gains recently made at the bargaining table and voicing concerns that arbitration could mean delays in securing a deal.

Back in March, the STF pushed for binding arbitration but was rejected by the province.

Like Saskatchewan, Ontario classrooms have seen an increase in violence following the COVID-19 pandemic as class sizes continue to grow and funding for one-on-one supports gets put on the chopping block. The Saskatchewan government responded to the STF’s call for more accountability around classroom size and complexity funding, which includes violence, through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outside of bargaining. The MOU has been criticized by the STF because it would not be legally binding and could be cancelled by either party with 12-months notice.

“One of the clear things our members wanted was to see something that would allow them to start forcing school boards to track violence in schools,” said Jansen in de Wal, adding that significant improvements made through negotiations, which hopefully continue with binding arbitration, will lead to more and accurate reporting.

“The culture of health and safety reporting in Ontario schools is abysmal, and I hear similar concerns in other provinces like Saskatchewan.”

The OECTA has been in negotiations for more than two years, including 54 bargaining dates, which Jansen in de Wal says has been the longest and most tedious negotiation process in which he’s participated.

“I’ve never seen a group work so hard not to engage on any issue,” he said, referring to what he called the province’s unwillingness to negotiate in the first year.

With provincial jurisdictions making severe cuts to education across the country, Jansen in de Wal says there is an obvious attempt to privatize education across the board.

“There are people who would rather put profit ahead of people and that’s the heart of underfunding education,” said Jansen in de Wal. “Underfunding education isn’t accidental. It’s very purposeful. We’ve seen it before and it’s part of an ideological attack on public schooling which wants to move it to a privatized model.”

Saskatchewan is no stranger to these sentiments and concerns.

Back in March, STF president Samantha Becotte claimed the Sask. Party government has a “deliberate goal of defunding public education,” following the announcement of the 2024-25 provincial budget.

In response to those claims, the province has maintained that it supports “parental choice with respect to children’s education.” NDP education critic Matt Love also said there has been an eagerness for the government to offer “massive increases to independent schools while starving the public education system.”

“The facts are very clear that the investment in education pays itself back,” said Jansen in de Wal. “It’s costing us more down the road to not be helping these kids. It’s a future problem we all have an interest in solving and I don’t understand why governments don’t see that.”

The STF work-to-rule action, which resumed Monday, includes a restricted workday in which teachers arrive 15 minutes before the start of the regularly scheduled school day and depart 15 minutes after it ends. All voluntary services, including extracurricular activities and noon-hour supervision, are on pause.