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Elementary school teachers offered Friday to stop all rotating strikes and take no new strike action if the Education Minister promises that she won’t force collective agreements on ETFO under Bill 115 on or after December 31.

“This would allow room for more productive, respectful, democratic and fair discussions to take place with the goal of reaching collective agreements under a new leader in this province,” said Sam Hammond, president, ETFO.

“Parents deserve that. Students deserve that. And my 76,000 members deserve an opportunity to fully exercise their democratic rights to bargain collectively.”

The Liberals will elect a new leader at their convention in Toronto at the end of January.

“We believe that the appointment of a new Premier will provide an opportunity to take a fresh look at the current collective bargaining impasse,” said Hammond, during a press conference on Friday morning at the ETFO provincial offices in Toronto.

Hammond said he’d look forward to exploring new options with a new Premier while continuing to work towards local collective agreements with school boards.

“If Minister Broten decides to take precipitous action with Bill 115, that decision will trigger further disruption,” said Hammond.

For the last two weeks, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has held rotating one-day strikes across the province.

“This is something I’m sure no one wants to see.”

Under Bill 115, Ontario’s public school teachers and support staff lose the right to collectively bargain their wages and working conditions. It also allows the provincial government to impose a collective agreement if negotiations are not completed by December 31, 2012.

“Bill 115 threatens the very foundation of Ontario’s democratic values,” said Hammond. “The government must realize by now that Bill 115 is a huge mistake.”

ETFO’s latest offer recognizes that the existing legal collective bargaining process is the only way to secure a new contract.

“And it offers a way forward to help stop the chaos that has been created by Bill 115,” he said.

At Friday’s press conference, Hammond also took the opportunity to address what he called the government’s “fib factory”, the misrepresentations and untruthfulness of the Liberals over the last several months.

“Our job actions are not about a wage freeze,” said Hammond. “I have said repeatedly that we would agree to a two year wage freeze.”

The fight has always been over Bill 115 and the loss of fundamental bargaining rights. ETFO locals have remained at the bargaining table and continued to talk with school boards.

“That is the legal bargaining process under the Labour Relations Act,” he said.

But Bill 115 puts the government above the Ontario Labour Relations Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the courts.

Hammond claimed that in spite of the government’s claims to the contrary, the voluntary talks held last February were not bargaining.

“Being invited to a table with three bankruptcy lawyers and being given a ‘take it or leave it’ demand with no room for fair and respectful discussions is not collective bargaining,” said Hammond.

“That is why ETFO declined to continue with those voluntary talks and turned to the legal bargaining mechanism of local negotiations with local school boards.”

Hammond insisted that ETFO would return to the voluntary talks provided they were “real negotiations” and all options were on the table to achieve “solutions that address the fiscal restraints” the province has to contend with.

“We’ve approached the Minister with these requests on more than one occasion,” said Hammond.

On November 11, when the government invited ETFO to a discussion with a third party facilitator, Hammond was hopeful that an agreement could be reached until, he said, “the Education Minister abruptly shut that session down.”

Hammond alleged that Minister Broten said the talks were only an opportunity for ETFO to ask questions.

“That was news to ETFO,” said Hammond. “That was news to me. We were there to find solutions.”

With respect to the government’s deal with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), Hammond said the deal was never ratified by their rank and file members.

“And it is the subject of a number of complaints to the Ontario Labour Relations Board by some Catholic boards and some OECTA locals.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.