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ONTARIO: Catholic teachers introduced new benefits demands, charges minister 

OECTA called off rotating strikes it had planned for this week in order to bargain Monday with the government, but by all accounts little progress was made
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TORONTO — Ontario's education minister came out swinging Tuesday against the Catholic teachers' union a day after negotiations were scuttled by what he said were new benefits demands.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association called off rotating strikes it had planned for this week in order to bargain Monday with the government, but by all accounts little progress was made.

OECTA's president said in a late-night statement that the government bargaining team held firm to its agenda, making it seem like they have no intention of negotiating an agreement. The union is now considering further strikes.

But Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the union has obstructed progress by insisting on enhancements to benefits.

"When the message yesterday is that if we do not get a further enhancement that there will be further impacts, that just can't be acceptable," he said Tuesday.

Lecce wouldn't disclose specific numbers, but noted that the union representing public high school teachers has said it is seeking a six per cent increase each year to members' benefits. Education officials have said all three other major teachers' unions are making similar demands on benefits.

The government is not budging beyond offering one-per-cent annual increases to both salary and benefits.

Lecce would not say if the government's offer Monday contained anything new, but insisted the negotiators were given the "latitude" to get a deal.

OECTA president Liz Stuart said in a statement Tuesday that Lecce's comments were an attempt to "distract and confuse Ontarians."

"Nobody believes this government is investing in students, and nobody believes Catholic teachers would be taking strike action over benefits enhancements," she wrote.

"If the Ford government spent half as much time listening to teachers' concerns as they do trying to insult us and muddy the waters, this all could have been concluded months ago."

All four major teachers' unions have been engaging in strikes to pressure the government during a contentious round of bargaining. Those representing secondary teachers are concerned with the government's increases to class sizes and new mandatory e-learning requirements.

Elementary teachers say their key issues include guaranteeing the future of full-day kindergarten, securing more funding to hire special education teachers, and maintaining seniority hiring rules. All of the teachers' unions are also asking for around two per cent in annual salary increases.

The union representing teachers in the French system announced it is cancelling its planned provincewide strike for Thursday because of a forecast of heavy snowfall, which could make for dangerous picketing conditions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press