The majority of teacher unions in Ontario have dismissed the proposal of binding arbitration as a means of securing new contracts, potentially leaving room for strikes to occur.
Last Friday, an announcement was made that the government and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) would resort to arbitration if a negotiated contract deal wasn’t achieved by October 27th. However, the approval from OSSTF members is still pending.
Stephen Lecce, Education Minister, had expressed optimism that other unions would agree to what he described as an “incredibly fair, reasonable student-focused proposal.”
Nevertheless, in a joint statement, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontarien (AEFO), expressed inability to take the proposal into consideration presently.
According to René Jansen in de Wal, the President of OECTA, the proposal designed for OSSTF does not suit their needs. He mentioned that arbitration could be beneficial under correct circumstances, but expressed concern that it may limit the scope of discussion on critical issues impacting the students and the classroom environment.
Karen Brown, ETFO President, shared these sentiments, stating that many of the concerns raised by their members wouldn’t be best resolved by an arbitrator. She mentioned issues of violence in classrooms and hiring practices, emphasizing the need for decisions to be made by the government after extensive dialogue and negotiations.
Attempting to assuage these concerns, Lecce explained that the arbitration approach potentially left ample room for “spirited discussions at the bargaining table” until October 27th. He made it clear that for unresolved issues popping up during these discussions, a credible, independent, third-party arbitration system would boost the chances for resolution and settlement, thereby ensuring continual classroom learning.
The teacher unions ETFO, OSSTF, and OECTA have scheduled strike votes for September and October with the intention of ascertaining member support for job action and to add a sense of urgency to the bargaining process. The AEFO president mentioned last week that the union was in the process of evaluating its options.