TORONTO, Ont. – Elementary teachers in the Stratford and Timmins areas started the one-day walkouts Monday, in the first wave of strikes expected to spread across the province over the next few weeks.

Premier Dalton McGuinty rebuked Ontario’s public elementary school teachers for launching a wave of one-day walkouts. But the rotating strikes are “a small price to pay” to protect smaller class sizes, teaching jobs and the rollout of full-day kindergarten, he said.

“The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has disrupted nine years of labour peace over a disagreement about pay,” he said in a statement.

“It’s regrettable that students miss any time learning, and it’s unfortunate that families will need to make alternate arrangements.”

Although the governing Liberals have the power to end the strikes, McGuinty said they won’t intervene.

But the union said the strikes aren’t about pay, but a protest of a controversial new law that gives the government the power to stop strikes and impose a new collective agreement on teachers.

It’s “unfortunate” that McGuinty “trivialized” the fight against Bill 115 as a disagreement over pay, said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

“The education sector’s response to Bill 115 is not about a wage freeze or pause in salaries,” he said in a statement.

“This strike action is about the government’s unprecedented interference in the right to collectively bargain, a legal right provided for all people under Ontario law.”

On Tuesday, the strikes will move to the Niagara school board and the province’s northwest Keewatin-Patricia board, while teachers in Ottawa-Carleton, Lakehead in Thunder Bay and Hastings-Prince Edward will walk out on Wednesday.

Elementary teachers in York Region, Trillium Lakelands in the Muskoka area and Renfrew say they’ll walk off the job Thursday.

All elementary schools in the affected school boards will be closed the day of the strikes.

Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation withdrew Monday from all non-classroom work, including extra-curricular sports and events such as holiday concerts.

Hundreds of high school students walked out of class Monday in protest of the legislation.

“Everyone’s putting themselves first, now it’s time for us to put the students first,” one high school student said.