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Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and provincial government make no progress in bargaining agreement

The Government of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) continue to find themselves stuck in a stalemate over a new agreement.

A one-day strike was held by Saskatchewan teachers on the past two Mondays, and there’s been no word on what the next steps look like.

If STF is going to take job action, they are required to give 48-hours notice, but have been giving five-day notices to give parents and students a heads up as well as put pressure on the government.

According to the government, the two sides have not met for negotiations in quite some time. The two parties last met at the table on Oct. 13, 2023 before having five days of conciliation between Dec. 5 and Dec. 12. 2023.

One of the main points of contention has been classroom size and complexity, with teachers wanting it to be part of the discussion and the province refusing, claiming that it would take autonomy away from local school boards.

“We need to have long-term commitments from this government, and we need to know that every child across the province is going to get the supports that they need,” STF president Samantha Becotte said Wednesday.

Becotte says for years teachers have been forced to take on too many roles in the classroom as class sizes grow and teacher resources are spread thin.

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The STF has outlined what it is asking for from the province, opening its asking package highlights to the public, with a salary ask of two per cent increase annually plus the consumer price index in Saskatchewan for each of the next four years.

The province said it is offering a seven per cent raise over three years, claiming that this would keep teachers above the Western Canadian Average.

Minister of Finance and public sector bargaining chair Donna Harpauer said there are a number of issues that have created problems with class size and complexity in Saskatchewan, adding that this wasn’t something that popped up overnight.

“The teachers have a very valid concern that they’re bringing forward,” Harpauer said. “The difference is what belongs at the collective bargaining table normally is wages, pensions, benefit programs.”

And while Becotte agrees different school divisions have different needs, it isn’t a reason for the discussion to be left off the table.

We recognize that divisions are incredibly different from different regions in the province, whether you are in large urban centers or northern centers,” Becotte said. “But unfortunately, because of years of budget increases that have been less than inflation and less than enrolment growth in education, divisions don’t have the ability to address their local needs. What we’ve put forward for a proposal in negotiations, would really set a minimum standard.”

Harpauer said some of their work away from the bargaining table shows the government is trying to find ways to address these problems.

The government has pointed to school boards, saying they are the ones with authority over class size and complexity, but Michelle Prytula, an associate professor at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, said in a previous interview that due to school boards no longer being able to set their own mill rate, it is very difficult for school boards to address that problem.

When asked if the province would be willing to look at some options to allow school boards to set their mill rates, Harpauer said they reeled back that authority because they were facing tax revolts.

“The school divisions were basically escalating the property taxes to levels that the taxpayer could no longer afford,” Harpauer said.

She spoke about the salary ask the STF put forward, saying that the assumption based on the consumer price index would see a rate well over 20 per cent.

“We think there is some room to come closer than where we are.”

The Ministry of Education said roughly $6 million per day is spent on teachers’ salaries in the province.

Harpauer explained that the money saved from the two strikes would be up to the school divisions to spend, saying they get the operational funding and would be the ones banking that money.

Becotte fears the money saved from the strike will be promoted as an ‘investment’ by the government.

“They shouldn’t be hoping for teachers to go on strike to then fund and make up the shortfalls of their underfunded education system,” she said. “That’s not how we make investments in education.”

As for now, no further actions have been announced by STF, but Becotte says anything from cutting extra curriculars to going on a full strike is on the table.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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