Province’s teachers to go on one-day strike Jan. 16: STF

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill answers questions from the press after Question Period at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, October 12, 2023 in Regina.

The clock is now ticking before Saskatchewan teachers start a one-day job action.

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) announced the beginning of a five-day countdown leading up to a one-day province-wide strike on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

“We do not want to take this action,” Samantha Becotte, STF president said on a Thursday morning virtual news conference.

“We’ve been trying to avoid this for the last seven months.”

The STF gave a five day notice for the one-day strike as contract negotiations remain at a standstill for its 13,500 members.

The legal requirement for notice of job action is 48 hours. Teachers are initiating a five-day countdown to provide families with advance notice and extra time to prepare.

“We are giving plenty of notice because we are approaching this in good faith,” Becotte said. “We are approaching this in the hopes that government will take teachers seriously, take the process seriously, renew their mandate, and get back to the table so that we can avoid any action.”

If the government continues to not move from their positions, additional job action will follow the strike on Jan. 16.

“Teachers have done everything possible to find a resolution to this,” Becotte said. “We do not want to take this action. We can avoid taking this action at any time if government is willing to discuss longer term commitments to address class complexity.

She said the goal is to reach an agreement before Jan. 16. If that doesn’t happen, Becotte hopes one day of strike action will be all it takes.

“We are hoping that that one day is enough to get this government to move off of their opening positions within bargaining and get to the table and start addressing those big concerns that teachers have brought forward, specifically around class complexity,” she said.

Becotte said teachers can go on strike for one day and return to normal on Wednesday. She pointed to changes in legislation that removed the ability of the STF to apply for binding arbitration.

“Teachers have very little options within the bargaining process that they can take on their own,” Becotte said.

Daily Herald File Photo STF President Samantha Becotte

The STF said that the Government refuses to negotiate on class size and complexity, even after the Conciliation Board indicated support for teachers’ position that class size and complexity can be addressed through bargaining.

The matter of class complexity remains the sticking point to bargaining talks, according to Becotte, as it affects students first and foremost.

“These working conditions are our students’ learning conditions,” she said. “Children and their families deserve to know that they will have the support that is needed for them to thrive during their years in public education.”

The conciliator’s report released on Monday encourages the two sides to “keep talking” on the matter of class complexity.

“Though both agree that class size and complexity are ongoing challenges to be addressed, they cannot agree on the manner in which they ought to be dealt with,” read the report.

The STF is encouraging supporters to contact Cockrill to voice their concerns through an action tool and to sign up for Tell Them Tuesday to take part in future advocacy actions to bring government back to the table with a new mandate before January 16.

Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill said in a statement that the government is disappointed that the STF is working towards a strike while the Government Trustee Bargaining Committee is at the table ready to talk.

“Outside of that process, we have demonstrated our commitment to addressing classroom complexity with record funding, and two brand new pilot projects announced just this week,” Cockrill said.

“We know that disrupting learning is not what is in the best interest of students, and that deals are reached at the bargaining table, not on the picket line,” he added.

Becotte said that these short-term solutions were not enough.

“I know we have seen a couple of pilot projects announced by the ministry this week. It could be as simple, potentially, as making a commitment to expand those projects so that they support all classes across Saskatchewan or all teachers across Saskatchewan and all students so that they can have a better experience in their public education,” Becotte said.

He said that the STF’s decision affects parents and school divisions have begun communication ahead of any possible job action.

“The GTBC has put forward a fair deal for teachers with a seven per cent raise over three years, ensuring Saskatchewan teachers remain paid above the Western Canadian Average,” he said.

“The GTBC would like to continue discussing competitive salary and benefits but cannot with the STF refusing to return to the table,” Cockrill added.

In Prince Albert both the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and Prince Albert Catholic School Division have cancelled classes on Jan. 16 and sent letters to parents.