Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) President Patrick Maze says many teachers in Saskatchewan are voicing concerns for their safety as the coming school year approaches, and that some have begun to inquire about how to legally refuse to work.
“Part of the concern is that there seems to be two standards – one for the regular public and one for our schools,” Maze said of the concerns, which he quantified as “across the board.”
“Why is it that we can only seat six at a table in a restaurant yet we can jam 30 students in a poorly ventilated classroom?”
In a statement, a Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety spokesperson said that “if an individual employee feels their work is unusually dangerous, the first step in exercising the right to refuse is for an employee to talk to their employer and express their specific concerns.”
However, the statement stipulates that “if steps have been followed and the appropriate safety processes and procedures are in place the worker does not have the grounds to refuse to perform the actions or duties required of them.”
In a separate statement Friday, the province said “while employees do have the right to refuse “unusually dangerous” work, the government and the school divisions are taking all the necessary steps to ensure a safe workplace and learning environment for both teachers and their students.
Maze says the position of the STF is not to promote that its members refuse to work.
Instead, he says the organization will advise concerned teachers, some of whom he called immunocompromised, through the process.
He said concerned teachers would first have to approach their supervisor. He said that if a teacher didn’t feel the matter was resolved at that stage they could take their concerns to their school’s Occupational Health and Safety committee, then to the provincial OHS division.
“They would have to go through that process. It’s not just as simple as not showing up for work,” Maze said.
At the provincial level, an OHS officer can offer advice to help resolve a safety concern conflict between an employee and employer, or consult The Saskatchewan Employment Act to make a decision.
OHS officer decisions can be appealed to the director of occupational health and safety.
“We’re running out of time now to implement measures that will make teachers and students feel safe,” Maze added.
The province also confirmed in a statement Friday that “further safety measures will be announced in the days ahead, so no teacher is being asked to perform ‘unusually dangerous’ work.”
The media relations officer did not provide a timeline or any further details for the announcement.