The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario says it could begin rotating strikes in less than two weeks’ time if there isn’t significant progress in its contract talks with the provincial government.

In a news release issued Thursday, ETFO announced plans to escalate labour action starting Monday by refusing to supervise extra-curricular activities and participate in field trips.

The union, which represents 83,000 public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across Ontario, added that a “full withdrawal of services” could begin on a rotating basis beginning Jan. 20 if a deal on a new collective agreement isn’t reached by then.

“We are extremely frustrated and insulted and we want this government to actually get serious, to actually negotiate at the table,” ETFO President Sam Hammond told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “Let’s actually negotiate rather than sitting around for days on end.”

Hammond said that union leadership has not made the decision to stage rotating strikes “lightly” but believe that they have “no other choice” in light of four months of negotiations that have failed to produce any meaningful progress.

He said that while there have been 22 bargaining days held since August, most of those days included only an hour of face-to-face conversations.

ETFO negotiators did make “significant movements” on a number of “key issues” in December, Hammond said, but even that did not lead to any sort of momentum at the table.

In fact he said that representatives for the province have indicated that they are unwilling to entertain any proposals, such as additional special education teachers, unless the union were to “find the money somewhere else.”

“In the whole time I have been doing this, since 1998, I have never been in a round of bargaining like this where the government representatives on the other side is absolutely not engaged in the process,” Hammond said.

The union says starting Monday, educators will not arrive more than 30 minutes before the start of the school day and will leave no later than 15 minutes after classes end.

The exact form of the rotating strikes is not clear, though Hammond told reporters that the union would be providing five-days advanced notice of which boards and or schools would be affected, as required by the Ministry of Labour.

“We absolutely understand how complicated this is for parents but what I say to those parents is stand with us and put pressure on this government to do what they need to do on behalf of their children and our students. That is our biggest concern,” he said.

Lecce says ETFO has broken promise to parents

In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that while union leaders “promised that their escalation would not impact students and their learning,” they have now “broken that promise.”

He went on to call on them to end “the games and the cyclical experience of escalation that hurts Ontario students.”

Hammond, however, said that the escalation is ultimately about “protecting public education in this province. He said that he remains hopeful that the planned escalation ultimately gets both sides back at the bargaining table working towards a new collective agreement.

“I hope by the time I am done this that my team is talking to the conciliator and others to get (bargaining) dates,” he said.

Speaking during a one-on-one interview with CP24 earlier in the day, Premier Doug Ford said he is “proud” of the way that Lecce is handling the negotiations.

“We’re working hard. I’m just so proud of Minister Lecce. He is just an incredible person, a great communicator. He’s doing a great job,” Ford said.

He went on to praise “hard-working teachers” while at the same time blaming union leaders for the ongoing labour action.

“What I’m hearing from them (teachers) is they just wanna stay in the classroom. They want to get this going and keep working and I differentiate between them and the heads of the unions,” Ford said. “For 30 years they want to fight with any government, with any premier, but we’ll get a deal done and it’ll be beneficial to the students who are our priority.”

ETFO's escalation comes amid months of tension between the province and Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions, which have been without contracts since August.

On Thursday talks between the province and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) broke down, all but ensuring that a work-to-rule campaign slated to begin next week will go ahead.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Union (OSSTF) also continues to hold one-day rotating strikes across the province.

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.