Province backs down on two major issues in teacher labour battle

Ontario is further backing down on class size increases and e-learning requirements in the midst of a contentious round of bargaining with teachers' unions.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the government is now offering an increase in average high school class sizes to 23, just one student over last year's levels.

The Progressive Conservatives angered teachers last March when they announced they would increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28, which would lead to thousands of fewer teachers in the system, and require students to take four e-learning courses to graduate.

The government partly backed off on both issues last year, but the unions had said the concessions didn't go far enough, and continued to ramp up strikes.

Lecce now says the e-learning courses won't be required to graduate.

All four major teachers' unions have been engaging in various strikes during this contentious round of bargaining, and Lecce has maintained that the unions' main objective is higher pay.

The unions have been asking for around two per cent in annual salary increases, but the Ontario government has passed legislation capping raises for public sector workers at one per cent for three years.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association said Tuesday it would continue challenging that legislation in court as unconstitutional, but it would accept the one per cent increase if the government backed down on class sizes and mandatory e-learning.