Bigger Kids

Ontario teachers' work-to-rule: 5 things you need to know

Ontario elementary teachers began work-to-rule strike action this week. Here's everything you need to know, from the issues to the impact on you, plus what you can expect next.

Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

Across Ontario, parents and kids in the public elementary school system are again caught in the conflict between teachers and their school boards—an issue that routinely crops up across the country. This week, the 73,000 members of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO)—disgruntled at the lack of progress in negotiations with the provincial government and the Ontario Public School Board Association (OPSBA)—began a work-to-rule campaign.

While this job action will affect the way teachers conduct their business in the classroom, it’s not as drastic as the work-to-rule campaign that took place a few years back. And nobody is talking strike—yet. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Why are teachers upset?

Members of the EFTO have been without a new contract since August, and the union is frustrated that eight months of negotiations haven’t produced any significant progress. Pay isn’t the central issue in this conflict. The two sides can’t agree on issues related to hiring practices, prep time and class sizes.

2. What are the main issues?

The OPSBA says that the bargaining position of the teachers’ union fails to address declining class sizes and the new application of technology in the classroom. The teachers’ union counters that the OPSBA’s demands will lead to more students in classrooms and less teacher control over their prep time, and also worry about hiring practices and the burden of too many initiatives placed upon them by the ministry of education. “ETFO teachers are not prepared to allow increases in class sizes, have their preparation time directed by others, or be micromanaged and have their ability to support student learning compromised,” EFTO president Sam Hammond said in a statement.


3. Who is affected?

All elementary school students in Ontario’s 32 English public school boards.

4. What does work-to-rule mean for parents and kids?

Right now, not much. “The work-to-rule really won’t affect parents or kids,” says Annie Kidder, executive director of the Toronto-based People for Education, a national parent advocacy group. Teachers will continue to teach, remain in contact with parents and provide extra help to students. They’ll even maintain their involvement in voluntary extracurricular activities, like coaching teams or directing school plays, and will also accompany students on planned field trips.

“The measures are designed not to affect the kids on a day to day basis, which I think is really important for teachers. We're still doing fundraising, grad, fun fair, planning and marking at school (and at home for many), etc., so on a day-to-day basis it’s business as usual for the kids and the teachers,” said a grade 4/5 teacher in the Greater Toronto Area who preferred not to be named. “The last thing we want is for students to feel the effects.”


What they won’t be doing: any work on standardized testing, most notably instruction related to the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which conducts province-wide exams in grades three, six and nine. Teachers also won’t attend staff meetings. Should the job action continue into June, it will also have an impact on report cards. While teachers will provide grades, they won’t write any comments or feedback on the report cards, so you’ll know what grade your child got, but won’t know why, exactly.

5. What can you expect to happen next?

Nobody really knows. The union has (somewhat ominously) labelled the current work-to-rule action “phase 1” of a job action that the EFTO promises will be “incremental in nature.” But the union also maintains that “further actions” may be required. That could include a ban on teachers’ involvement in extracurricular activities and field trips or even one-day rotating strikes, similar to the job action taken by both elementary and secondary teachers’ unions in Ontario back in 2012. “I think it all depends on OPSBA and the government's willingness to actually negotiate things,” says the grade 4/5 teacher.

And an all-out strike, somewhere down the road, is also a possibility. But for now, everyone—including the two sides, and most experts—is still just guessing. “I have no crystal ball, so I truly have no idea what might happen next,” says Kidder.

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