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The case against bigger raises for Ontario teachers

Author: 2020/03/11

This article was originally published by the Toronto Sun on March 11, 2020. 

Ontario teachers’ unions are demanding a two per cent salary increase for their members each year over a three year contract period, and some have reportedly requested a seven per cent increase for benefits.

The government shouldn’t give in.

First, there’s the issue of provincial finances. The government already offered its employees a raise it can’t afford: one per cent per year for the next three years. Each one per cent raise costs taxpayers $720 million, which would likely double if the teachers’ unions got the raises they want.  

Ontario has surpassed $352 billion in debt, and adds $42 million to that number every day. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, the province is already projecting a $9-billion deficit. There’s simply no money for bigger raises.

Fundamentally, Ontario teachers don’t need bigger raises because they’re already very well compensated.

While there have been different accounts of what the average teacher salary is in Ontario, it’s clear that it’s a good wage; the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) claims the average salary is $87,000 per year while the education minister pegs it closer to $93,000.

What’s more telling is the total compensation amount, which is calculated by adding the value of employer contributions to pensions and benefits to salary. Through a freedom of information request, it was revealed that in the 2018 school year, top-earning teachers in Ontario took home a total compensation of more than $120,000 per year. In other words, the value of taxpayer-funded pension contributions and benefits added over $20,000 to top-earning teachers’ annual compensation.

Of note, Ontario’s school year is 194 days. Top-earning teachers in Ontario were therefore compensated at a rate of $619 per day two years ago.

The province’s public sector salary disclosure list reveals the names of more than 10,000 Ontario teachers who earned this amount in 2018. Teachers can reach the top of the salary grid after 10 years, and data from the ministry of education reveal that 71 per cent of Ontario teachers have 10 or more years of experience.

It’s also worth noting that members of the CUPE union, which represents some of the lowest paid employees in the education sector (such as custodians and education assistants), agreed to a one per cent raise, while higher paid teachers continue to ask for double. Although OSSTF includes some non-teacher education support staff, the union is demanding a raise for its entire membership including teachers.

Ultimately, Ontario taxpayers can’t afford to pay more in taxes to give teachers a bigger raise. Taxes are already the single largest expense for the average Canadian household, and a recent Ipsos poll revealed that 48 per cent of Canadians are $200 or less away from financial insolvency at the end of the month.

According to Statistics Canada, the median income for Ontarians between the age of 25 to 54 is $45,600, which is approximately half the salary of the average teacher. When considered in this light, it’s easy to understand why most Ontarians disagree with teachers’ demand for bigger raises. 

Going further into debt isn’t a good idea either. The province spent $13 billion on interest payments in the 2019-20 fiscal year, which is approximately $36 million per day. That’s more than the province spent on colleges and universities.

When it comes to compensation for Ontario teachers, the government should hold the line.