Province, teachers’ union butt heads over classroom violence

While the province says it’s ready to bargain, STF has doubts on negotiations.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

As the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) continues to plead its case to get classroom complexity and composition language baked into its next contract, the province says it’s ready and waiting to bargain.

“The government has moved on a number of items the STF asked for, including workplace safety which is one of many areas the GTBC (government-trustee bargaining committee) is prepared to discuss at the table as part of its renewed mandate,” said a statement from the Ministry of Education on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the STF held a virtual news conference where teachers shared their experience with classroom violence and argued the system in place to address violent incidents is failing them. The union has been clear it will only return to negotiations if the GTBC comes back with a new mandate that includes the ability to address classroom complexity and composition, which includes violence, at the bargaining table.

While the ministry says multiple invitations to get back to the table have been extended, including one Wednesday morning, but have not been responded to by the union, STF president Samantha Becotte has doubts about whether anything has really changed.

“While they say they’re ready to negotiate, it’s that they’re ready for us to come accept their offer that they’ve provided,” said Becotte in an interview Thursday. “There is no back-and-forth conversation that they’re ready to engage in.”

Becotte said the vast majority of proposals move items like classroom violence outside of the bargaining process in the form of committees where accountability is often absent.

“There has been too many occurrences where committees have resulted in very weak recommendations that don’t provide meaningful solutions or meaningful improvements to classrooms and to schools,” she said.

While the province has pointed to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) as the mechanism to address violence in schools, during Wednesday’s virtual news conference, Becotte emphasized the need for a better reporting system for teachers to disclose incidents so they can be assessed and reviewed more effectively.

“It’s likely not the same as other violence that’s occurring in other workplaces that OHS might be better suited for, said Becotte, noting children’s’ unique struggles with managing emotions, frustration, and not having their needs met due to a lack of proper supports in place.

Becotte said the issue with reporting to OHS is that it is a means to deal with trips, slips and falls, and isn’t equipped to provide the recommendations that are needed to adequately support the classroom environment.

Currently, all violent incidents that happen in schools are reported through OHS, but the province was unable to provide any data related to how many incidents are being reported by schools.

“Because teachers are self-insured through the STF, the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board would not have information you’re looking for,” said an email from the province.

Employees in the education sector are to follow the process set up in their policies around reporting violence, a government response said, adding the employer would be responsible for ensuring a complaint is followed up on and any findings are acted on.

The Leader-Post reached out to several school divisions for information on OHS reports of classroom violence, but did not receive a response by deadline.

“As the employer, school divisions have the responsibility to follow all OHS requirements to provide a safe work environment, and have plans and processes in place to support student and staff safety,” said a statement from the Ministry of Education. “Additionally, government amended The Saskatchewan Employment Act last year, which will further protect employees, like teachers, from violence in the workplace.”

Amendments to the Saskatchewan Employment Act state all workplaces are required to have a violence policy in place by May 17, 2024 that will also apply to students, volunteers and contract workers. All workplaces will also be required to have a violence prevention plan and investigate all incidents of violence in the workplace.