Saskatchewan teachers are still at an impasse with the Government Trustee Bargaining team following the tabling of the Conciliators’ Panel report.
The report was released on January 8, and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation immediately called a press conference to address the report, continued issues, and the Government’s announcement of a Specialized Support Classroom pilot project.
The province has targeted eight school divisions with large urban schools to address the increasing concerns around behaviour and differential learning for students. One component of provincial bargaining revolves around such concerns.
After ten bargaining sessions dating back to May 2023 and five additional sessions of conciliation, STF president Samantha Becotte shared concerns that the two sides are no closer to an agreement.
“From the panel that provided the report, there were some items that were so far apart in our two positions that they weren’t able to provide a recommendation for,” said Becotte. “One of the items that was provided with comments was around class complexity, which is a significant item that teachers have been bringing forward over the last couple of years.”
Becotte noted that the Conciliation Panel agreed that teachers had a right to negotiate their working conditions. The same affirmation came through two previous conciliation reports in previous years of bargaining. The tentative agreements recently reached in Quebec and Ontario make provisions for such items related to working conditions.
Becotte addressed the Government’s same-day release of its Specialized Support Project plan. She says that pilot project is an admission by the government for the need to inject additional resources.
“Unfortunately, this pilot project is planned only for eight urban elementary schools, which accounts for approximately one per cent of the students in Saskatchewan.”
While Becotte acknowledged that the $3.6 million dollars committed to the project is a substantial sum, she also criticized the Government’s spending of a quarter of that amount for a two-week event in Dubai.
“It is clear that students are not where they should be on the government’s list of priorities.”
Asked if the direction of the project toward urban schools and students sent a message that classroom complexity wasn’t an issue in rural schools in the government’s eyes, Becotte agreed there was a risk of that perception.
“We have issues in all areas of our province; this isn’t just about urban centres. It’s due to a growing enrolment and a lack of professional supports. So, it’s very concerning that only urban centres are going to see this pilot project being tested, as Saskatchewan is a diverse province, and we should be looking at how these projects work in all areas of our province.”
On the issue of salaries, once again, the panel indicated the two sides were far apart and consequently, they could make no meaningful recommendations. Becotte suggested that teachers were 8 to 10 per cent down in terms of purchasing power since their last agreement.
Before the school holiday break, STF officials alluded to the likelihood of job action if there was no further movement in negotiations. Becotte reiterated that ninety per cent of teachers presenting a ninety-five per cent approval for the potential of job action gives a strong message.
“That shows that teachers have had enough and that they’re not willing to wait any longer to have these concerns addressed through the bargaining process. Our goal is to get to a negotiated agreement, and so we are doing our best to provide government with every opportunity to come to the table with a renewed mandate to negotiate around class complexity, violence in the classrooms, and supports for learning that we’ve been talking about.”
Becotte also stated that their mandate for job action gives them the latitude to draw on sanctions ranging from removal of extra-curricular activities and withdrawal of voluntary services, right up to walkouts.
“If we do have to take action, it is solely in the hands of government and their refusal to come to the table in good faith and negotiate with teachers around these big issues.”
Becotte says the STF bargaining team will keep channels open with the Government-Trustee team in the hopes of a new mandate.