PCs say nothing is off the table in teacher talks, but two per cent pay increase 'challenging'
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said while he's willing to engage with teachers unions on all issues as contract talks have stalled, the proposal of a two per cent pay increase is "rather high."
"Nothing is off the table as I work towards reaching a deal," he said Friday, after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation applied for conciliation earlier in the day.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario did the same earlier in the week, prompting Lecce to appear before reporters.
The two per cent figure is based cost-of-living adjustment linked to the Consumer Price Index, the OSSTF explained to the Canadian Press, although the figure could change if the economy suffers.
But the PCs have already introduced legislation - although it hasn't been passed - that would cap public sector bargaining compensation increases to one per cent.
Lecce was asked several times if the limit of one per cent is non-negotiable and while he resisted to give a firm answer, he made it clear the proposal is a problem for the government.
"What I'm signalling to you is in the matter of choices between increasing compensation by over a billion dollars and helping put more money in the front of the class, I choose the latter over the former," he said.
And Lecce believes the public is on his side.
"That is not a small amount to taxpayers in the province who understand that a two per cent increase is rather high, especially where you look at where those monies otherwise could be allocated towards," he said.
Lecce's comments about compensation come after news reports this week that deputy ministers have had their pay go up 14 per cent since 2016, to a maximum of $326,560.
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles said Lecce didn't address packed classrooms or students who aren't able to access required courses for graduation.
But she said she couldn't take a position on the potential pay increase.
"Anything like that is weighed against other things that are discussed at the bargaining table, so I'm not in their position to be able to comment," she said, adding Lecce needs to address lowering class sizes. "If the minister of education is not talking about that today, then he simply does not get Ontarians."