Public elementary school teachers walked the picket lines in eight school districts, including Toronto, Durham and Peel, on Tuesday, giving hundreds of thousands of children the day off.

As 35,000 teachers held a one-day strike in protest of Bill 115, parents were forced to take the day off of work to watch their kids, or place them in the care of daycare centres, day camps, relatives or babysitters.

In addition to Toronto, Durham and Peel, walkouts also took place in Grand Erie, Greater Essex County, Lambton-Kent, Near North and Waterloo Region school boards.

Nearly half of Ontario's public elementary school teachers were on strike Tuesday as part of a bitter labour dispute that the province has characterized as a fight over pay.

At a large rally and march in Oshawa, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s president, Sam Hammond, denied the government’s claim, saying teachers are holding strikes to protest “draconian” elements of Bill 115 that strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights.

“We are not going away and we will not stand by and allow our democratic rights to be interfered with the way they are with Bill 115,” Hammond told CP24 reporter Pooja Handa.

Terri Lynn Platt was one of hundreds of teachers who picketed outside the Toronto District School Board’s head office on Yonge Street.

“We have a legal right to strike and that’s what we’re doing,” Platt told CP24 reporter Cam Woolley. “We’re at the point now where we need to make some more noise. The government needs to listen to us and our employer needs to listen to us. We’re doing our best to get a collective agreement but we do have shackles on us.”

Sticking with the province's claim, Education Minister Laurel Broten said the province can’t afford to give the teachers a pay increase.

More strikes to be held this week

The rotating strikes will continue for the rest of the week before students and school staff break for the holidays.

Teachers in Halton, Algoma and Bluewater school boards are scheduled to strike Wednesday. On Thursday, walkouts are taking place in Thames Valley, Superior-Greenstone and Limestone districts.

Broten and Premier Dalton McGuinty have repeatedly said the province will not block one-day strikes, but warned that the government will intervene if the walkouts go beyond one day.

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, the party’s education critic, again called on the Liberal government to end the strikes to prevent further disruptions for parents and students.

MacLeod said parents should be focused on their Christmas plans this week, not child-care arrangements that were needed because of a strike.

“We shouldn’t be where we’re at today,” MacLeod said. “(The province) shouldn’t have fallen victim to the union leaders’ demands.”

This is the second week of rotating one-day strikes held by the ETFO.

The union is holding the walkouts because of its labour dispute with the province over Bill 115, which imposes a two-year wage freeze and limits collective bargaining rights for teachers and support staff, and gives the provincial government the power to end strikes or lockouts.

In addition to calling on the government to repeal the bill, teachers’ unions are challenging the legislation in court, arguing it is unconstitutional.

The unions have until Dec. 31 to reach collective agreements with local school boards before a new contract is forced upon them.

If that happens, teachers are prepared to hold a massive one-day political protest in the New Year, Hammond said.

At the rally in Oshawa, Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan called on teachers to stage the protest Jan. 26, the day Ontario's Liberal Party elects a new leader to replace McGuinty, who is stepping down.

High school teachers, represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, have not gone on strike.

In their work-to-rule action, elementary and high school teachers have withdrawn from extra-curricular activities and administrative duties.

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