The head of the Prince Albert and Area Teachers’ Association (PAATA) says there is solidarity among local teachers, but there’s still hope the province will return to the negotiating table.
With a recent impasse in negotiations with the provincial government, 95 per cent of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) members voted to support job action. However, PAATA president Jean-Marc Belliveau said that’s a long way from teachers going on strike.
“Sometimes I hear strike vote. It’s not a strike vote,” Belliveau said.
“That doesn’t mean that anything’s going to happen immediately, but it’s hanging over (the negotiations). The objective of the TBC (Teachers’ Bargaining Committee) is still to reach a negotiated agreement and their hope is that conciliation will help move this process forward.
“We just want the government to come back to the table and actually negotiate. Usually negotiations there’s a back and forth, two-way communication, so that’s what they are looking for.”
In late October, the TBC declared an impasse and began the conciliation process to advance negotiations. Then, on Oct. 24-25, union members cast their ballots on a sanctions vote. Roughly 90 per cent of members cast ballots, with 95 per cent supporting job action.
Belliveau said that shows teachers support the bargaining committee, including the roughly 850 local teachers in the Prince Albert Catholic and Saskatchewan Rivers school divisions who are members of the PAATA.
“Our sanctions vote was at a whopping 95 per cent in favor and 90 per cent of teachers voted. That sends a solid message to the government that we are united,” he said.
The STF has put forward 10 proposals during bargaining. Among their concerns are class size and complexity, violence in classrooms, and actionable items that support truth and reconciliation.
Belliveau said the government refuses to bargain on nine of the 10 proposals, with salaries being the only item there is any movement on.
Violence in the classroom, he said, is of particular concern.
“You hear stories all over the province,” he said. “It’s locally and provincially. There are issues that needs to be addressed and we just want the governments to come back to the table, sit down, have that conversation acknowledge that it’s happening.”
Belliveau gave some statistics from Saskatchewan Ministry of Education Sector Staffing Profile including that in the 2022-2023 school year there was a 2.1 per cent increase in enrolment while the number of teachers declined by .07 per cent. There was one social worker per 25,188 students, one psychologist per 2,904 students and one speech language pathologist per 14,113 students.
He added that the number of students requiring intensive supported grew by 38 per cent while the number of specialists decreased between 2008 and 2019.
“Due to underfunding and budget cuts, caseloads for these professionals have become unmanageable,” he said. “Many of these students rely on these supports and it’s become inaccessible.”
The Ministry of Education said in an email to the Herald that they are disappointed that the STF walked away from negotiations and is willing to impose sanctions that could impact students and their families.
At the request of the STF, a conciliation board will be established in the coming weeks to assist the bargaining committees in reaching a new collective agreement.
They said that they remain at the table ready to bargain and it is our hope that the STF will come back and resume negotiations.
The STF has planned a mini-rally at the office of Minister of Education Jeremy Cockerill for Saturday, Oct.4.