Ontario approves labour deals with some teachers

Premier hopes agreement will serve as a template for other school boards

(Reuters) — Ontario has approved tentative deals that freeze wages between two major school boards and their teachers, the second major labour agreement between the province and its workers in the past week, the government said on Nov. 20.

The deals are part of a broader push by the ruling Liberals to curb the budget deficit of Canada's most populous province by capping the pay of doctors, teachers and civil servants.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced last month he would resign once the Liberals elect a new leader in January, said he hoped the deals will serve as a template for other school boards.

The announcement comes on the heels of another critical settlement with the province's doctors last week designed to freeze wages.

The agreements between unionized teachers and Ontario's Upper Grand District School Board and York Region District School Board meet the province's "fiscal parameters," said Education Minister Laurel Broten said.

In their March budget, the Liberals pledged to reduce the province's budget deficit — now projected at $14.4 billion for the current fiscal year — partly by providing no money for wage increases.

The government said such measures will save $6 billion over three years.

The Liberal government further angered public-sector unions by passing a law that freezes wages, cuts sick days and limits their right to strike. The legislation has set the bargaining deadline for Dec. 31.

The agreements followed months of contentious negotiations, which saw many teachers withdraw from voluntary activities, and still need to be ratified by the local unions.

The government had already approved an agreement with Catholic teachers and is still reviewing several other tentative labour deals.

Ontario's teachers are among the highest paid in Canada, a country where educators rank as some of the best compensated in the world.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the top salary for Canadian elementary teachers is $54,978, which stands only behind Austria, Germany, Ireland, South Korea and Luxembourg.

Credit rating agencies have repeatedly warned Ontario that tackling its deficit will require tough austerity measures.

Canada's provincial governments, which administer most of the country's health and education spending, have met fierce opposition in recent years as they've moved to control their budget deficits through cuts to services.

Healthcare and education make up about 70 per cent of Ontario's spending on programs, with wages and fees accounting for more than half of the expenses.

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