Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation proposes binding arbitration, provincial government pushes back

The STF and the provincial government have been in a back and forth on contract negotiations for several months now. Andrew Benson / Global News

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is offering a path through job sanctions to the provincial government, as the two sides continue to battle in contract negotiations – or lack thereof.

The STF is calling on the government to “agree to binding arbitration to address the contentious issues of class size and complexity.”

Binding arbitration would involve a submission of the dispute to a neutral party, who would provide recommendations to the province and the union.

If this is put in place, the STF said it will suspend job action and negotiations will proceed with the remaining items on the table for a new collective bargaining agreement.

“We are putting forward a fair, objective and neutral path to resolve this single-issue dispute,” STF president Samantha Becotte said Thursday.

“If government agrees to binding arbitration for class size and complexity, we will return to negotiations and all extracurricular activities, including Hoopla, band festivals, trips and graduation celebrations, can proceed.

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“To put this in clear terms: if government refuses binding arbitration, then (Education) Minister (Jeremy) Cockrill and Premier (Scott) Moe are choosing to cancel school trips, graduation planning, band festivals, Hoopla and so many more of this year’s activities that bring joy to our students and school communities.”

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Rotating job action has been ongoing since mid-January, following the breakdown in contract negotiations between the STF and the provincial government. Teachers want to include issues such as class size and complexity in bargaining, but the government believes those issues are best addressed by local school boards.

In 2017, the government amended the Education Act by removing the option for binding arbitration if requested by one party. If both parties agree, however, it can be used in negotiations.

“We’re asking Minister Cockrill to agree so that we can reach resolution,” Becotte said. “Every day the Minister delays his decision means students are missing out on more activities, lost deposits and the cancellation of events.”

The STF outlined that a tentative agreement could be brought forward to STF members for a vote while awaiting the arbitrator’s decision on class size and complexity.

“The arbitrator’s decision would then be added into the agreement.”

The STF is also urging the government to agree before Sunday, March 17.

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“As the STF has stated previously, sanction actions will increase as the impasse continues and many important extracurricular activities and events are fast approaching, starting with Hoopla next week.”

Hoopla brings teams together from across Saskatchewan to compete in high school basketball provincials. It is one of the largest tournaments of the year for schools.

On Thursday education minister Jeremy Cockrill and the provincial government said they would not be agreeing to binding arbitration when it comes to classroom size and complexity discussions.

“I think school boards understand their school communities best,” Cockrill explained. “I think school divisions want to find ways to support students and teachers, but they need to have the autonomy to do that in their local school communities.”

In a recent interview, Moe called the job actions disappointing.

“We’ve been very clear that we’re looking to move and have moved on a number of topics,” Moe said. “The STF has not moved on any topics that they have brought to the table and we’re trying to make every effort to find solutions to ensure that our children can stay in school and they have access to their extracurricular basketball and such.”

The Saskatchewan NDP have taken the teachers side throughout discussions and are urging the government to agree to binding arbitration.

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“Why won’t that minister (Jeremy Cockrill) get out of the way and send this issue to arbitration so there can finally be a resolution?” education critic Matt Love asked during question period.

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