The Ford government announced Wednesday that it plans to financially compensate parents impacted by ongoing strike action by the provinces four major teachers’ unions.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Wednesday morning just hours after the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced its intention to move forward with rotating one-day strikes next week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters that the provincial government will provide parents with compensation for each day that their children are out of the classroom due to labour disruptions by the province’s teachers’ unions.

Lecce said parents of children ages 0 to 6 who are not yet enrolled in school but attend a school-based child care centre that is required to close due to a strike will receive $60 per child per day.

Eligible parents impacted by the strike with children in junior and senior kindergarten will receive $40 per day.

Parents of students between Grade 1 and Grade 7 will receive $25 per day and $40 will provided per day for students with special needs in junior kindergarten up to Grade 12.

Lecce confirmed that funding will also be provided to parents who have already incurred costs due to the labour dispute.

 “We think this is an important step forward. We are trying to be proactive,” Lecce said during Wednesday’s news conference.

“We would not be here today if the teachers’ unions and their leadership did not decide to walk out on students on a weekly basis.”

Although the education minister said it would cost the government about $48 million to compensate parents if teachers across all four unions were to strike on the same day, it is estimated that the province spends about $60 million per day in teacher compensation across the education system.

Lecce continues to claim that the demand for more compensation is the primary reason negotiations have not moved forward.

“We have announced new changes that demonstrate we are moving in the right direction,” Lecce said. “We have seen no material change by the teachers’ unions at all.”

A spokesperson for the education minister said they have received a total of 11,991 applications on the first day of the program.

Toronto elementary teachers to strike on Monday

ETFO has been engaged in a work-to-rule campaign since November and last week, the union confirmed that teachers and education workers would proceed with one-day rotating strikes starting Jan. 20 if key issues weren’t addressed during negotiations.

On Wednesday, ETFO gave its required five-day notice, informing the province that teachers at the Toronto District School Board, the York Region District School, and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board will be fully withdrawing their services for one day on Monday.

“Other than cuts to education, Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce has refused to give his negotiators a mandate to discuss the substantive issues we know are important for students and education workers,” ETFO President Sam Hammond said in a news release issued Wednesday.

“Unless the government makes an immediate effort to engage in serious talks, we will have no option but to further escalate our strike action. As of today, Minister Lecce has established no dates for contract talks.”

ETFO represents 83,000 public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across Ontario.

Hammond called the province's compensation a "transparent" and "shameful" plan to "bribe" parents just one day after two parent groups spoke out in support of teachers.

"Rather than deciding to get to the table… what he (Lecce) decides to do is to let this drag out and provide a subsidy for parents," he said.

"Instead of doing that, put $50 million into the system (and) get back to the table." 

ETFO's plan to escalate its labour action comes amid months of tension between the province and Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions, which have been without contracts since August.

All of the unions have either started or announced their intention to commence some type of job action due to stalled contract talks.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) is continuing to hold rotating strikes across the province and high school teachers at 16 boards across Ontario walked off the job today for another one-day strike.

The union also announced on Wednesday that it will hold another one-day strike on Jan. 21 in nine locations, including the Toronto District School Board. They say that walkout will, however, be the last until after the upcoming secondary school exam period.

"If the Minister of Education is truly focused, as he incessantly claims, on keeping kids in class, then he will accept our offer and come back to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith,” OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said in a statement. “But the evidence is mounting that this government’s priorities have nothing to do with the well-being of students."

Key sticking points referenced by the unions include the government's decision to increase class sizes and its plans to freeze wage increases below the rate of inflation.

Last month, the unions launched separate legal challenges against Bill 124, provincial legislation that caps public sector wage increases at one per cent.

The introduction of mandatory e-learning has been a key problem identified by OSSTF and ETFO says the province's refusal to commit to full-day kindergarten is a major issue identified by teachers.

"We are not just taking this stand simply for the issues that are on the table," Hammond said. "We firmly believe we are trying to protect publicly funded education."

Hammond said it is “a given” that the union will continue to hold one-day rotating strikes in the future.

"We will let you know tomorrow in terms of what we are planning for Tuesday next week," Hammond told reporters.

-With files from The Canadian Press