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STF not bargaining until Saskatchewan government changes position

The Conciliation Board said the government at the STF are currently too far apart on class size and composition to reach an agreement on the teacher’s concerns.
The Conciliation Board said the government at the STF are currently too far apart on class size and composition to reach an agreement on the teacher’s concerns. Getty Images

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) says it sees no reason to return to the bargaining table until the government changes its position.

STF president Patrick Maze made the statement on the heels of a report released Thursday by the Conciliation Board that class size and composition should not be part of the current contract negotiations.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan teachers voting whether to take job action

It’s a key stumbling block in stalled contract talks between the two sides.

“Despite acknowledging that there are problems, government has refused to engage in meaningful conversations about chronic underfunding of public education and had made no indication of additional, sustained funding to address these issues,” Maze said.

“Should the government be prepared to bring additional resources, we would welcome re-engaging in negotiations.

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“Until that time, further discussions will not be productive.”

Education Minister Gordon Wyant has stated class size and composition should not be discussed at the bargaining table

“This was a matter before the arbitration board in 2018,” Wyant said.

“(The arbitrator) indicated that the class size and composition had no place in the collective bargaining agreement and the conciliator has confirmed that.”

Wyant said a committee he formed last fall is tasked with the issue. The STF was invited to take part, but refused its seat.

The board said the two sides are currently too far apart on the issue to reach an agreement on the teachers’ concerns.

“It is clear to the conciliation board that class size and composition are important issues for the education sector, for government, for local school boards, for the STF and for individual teachers,” the report said.

“What is contentious is the role, if any, that provincial collective bargaining should play in addressing these matters.

“Here the parties do not agree on their legal obligations to bargain.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation mulls sanctions after contract talks break down

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The board urged Wyant, the STF and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) to meet within the next four weeks to discuss the issue.

Wyant said he is sending a letter to the STF and SSBA, asking them to meet with him within the next couple of weeks.

He is also encouraged by the report and hopes it gets the parties back to the bargaining table.

“We recognize that the issue of class size and composition needs to be dealt with collaboratively and the conciliation report reflects that,” he said.

“We are encouraged that the GTBC offer is very close to what the conciliation board has now recommended.”

That raises an issue for the STF, who said the parties the board said should meet are not at the bargaining table and calls into question “the GTBC’s authority to continue negotiations.”

Maze said the only way to address the issues is through bargaining as the government has failed to provide adequate funding.

“The same government that says classroom supports are a local issue to be dealt with by school divisions is the same government that has also frozen funding to school divisions,” Maze said.

“The SSBA reports that almost every school division has deficit budgets because government has not provided them with adequate funding to cover the cost of day-to-day operations.”

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Wyant didn’t dispute there are issues around class composition and support that need to be addressed.

“We agree with the STF, we agree with teachers that class composition is a challenge,” Wyant said.

“We very much believe that those are issues which need to be determined locally by locally elected school divisions.”

Maze didn’t completely shut the door on the STF returning to the table.

“If the minister is committed and able to bring some better resources to fixing those situations that we’re seeing across classrooms in Saskatchewan, then I think we would be interested in coming back to the table,” Maze said.

READ MORE: STF considers next move after conciliation talks fail with government

The board also made salary increase recommendations.

It recommended salary increases of one per cent in the first year, and two per cent increases in each of the next two years of a three-year contract.

The board said that falls in line with recent increases for Saskatchewan public wage settlements.

The province offered one-time extra $1,500 payment funded from the teacher’s health plan in the first year of the contract, followed by two per cent raises in 2020 and 2021.

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The teachers’ bargaining committee is seeking a pay hike of eight per cent over three years — two per cent, three per cent and three per cent.

The two sides met with the board between Jan. 20–24. None of the recommendations in the conciliation report are binding.

The STF said it saw no progress during the four days of conciliation talks and teachers voted Feb. 10–11 on whether to take job action.

Results are expected to be released by the end of February.

STF president Patrick Maze said he intends to discuss the results with Wyant to see if a deal can be struck.