Saskatchewan teachers are headed back to the picket line on Monday for another one-day strike, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) president Samantha Becotte announced on Thursday.
This is the second time this month teachers have gone on a one-day strike. Prince Albert Area Teachers Association (PAATA) President Jean-Marc Belliveau said the first strike on Tuesday showed that teachers were ready to walk the picket lines.
“On Tuesday I feel we had an excellent amount of energy out in -30 C,” Belliveau said. “Teachers, they want change.”
Belliveau is confident teachers have the public’s overwhelming support. He said the government is not listening and refuses to engage in meaningful conversation.
“We’re trying to tell the government, but they’re clearly not listening,” he said. “They’re still just trying to address the salaries, but the reality is we don’t want just the salaries. We want what’s best for students, parents, kids that’s what we want, and they don’t want to address it.”
Belliveau said the government is avoiding addressing the issue by deflecting to local boards on issues that the union wants addressed, like classroom complexity.
“They are passing the buck, as if the STF is asking to take away rights from local boards,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is give more funding for boards to address issues that are happening provincial, and it’s not just Saskatchewan. Nationwide, there are some similar issues. There are so many other provinces that have the same problems.”
The STF has accused the Government of cutting $2,517/per student from education funding, landing the province in eighth place in Canada. Belliveau said the drop in funding is unacceptable.
“Both sides of the issue say the other side is not wanting to return to the table,” Belliveau said,
“Both sides want to get back to the table but it would be nice if the government would come back with a mandate to actually negotiate items, not just come back with the bare minimum that they came with. Let’s get this province to number one, not to number eight.”
In a news release, Becotte said that the government was making the negotiations discussion all about salary.
“If he had been paying attention, he’d know our job action was about so much more than that,” Becotte said.
“We’re seeking long-term commitments from government on critical issues impacting students, including class size and complexity–not patchwork pilot projects that don’t fix the systemic issues in our schools.”
According to the STF, new data from the Ministry of Education shows significant enrolment growth from 2022-23 to 2023-24–three percent, or 5,658 students, province-wide. Nearly 75 percent of school divisions in Saskatchewan experienced this uptick. Teacher staffing numbers have declined by almost two percent for 2022-23.
Belliveau said the teachers who walked 15th Street on Tuesday received excellent support for their first one-day strike.
“This is my first year in this role and I feel that the support from all the teachers,” he said. “It was inspiring just to be out there to see everyone marching and walking along with each other.”
Belliveau said that members of the public walked the picket lines on Tuesday in solidarity. A few students from Ecole St. Mary High School delivered hot chocolate to picketers at Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross’ office.
Belliveau said that he witnessed a person hand a Tim Hortons gift card to a picketer in solidarity on the picket line on Tuesday.
“That’s amazing vibes, so it seems we have amazing support from the community,” he said.
Belliveau said that the message is to have parties get back to the table.
“I think everyone knows that best bargaining is at the table, but there needs to be another mandate when they come back to the table with actual negotiations, not just the bare minimum,” he said.
According to the STF, since announcing its first round of sanctions on Jan. 11, over 16,000 calls and emails have been sent to the Premier and the Education Minister using their Tell Them Tuesday advocacy tools. All Saskatchewan Rivers schools were closed on Tuesday due to the strike and will be closed on Monday.
Saskatchewan Rivers School Division director of education Neil Finch said on Tuesday that the division was prepared for the one day strike and will be prepared for a full strike, if it happens.
“We will respond to whatever comes our way,” Finch said. “The STF was really good with giving more than 48 hours’ notice, so as long as that continues on it gives us time to plan.
“We will respond to whatever comes our way in regards to the job action,” he added.
The Prince Albert Catholic School Division also released letters in advance of Tuesday’s first strike and again for Monday’s second one-day strike. Director of Education Lorel Trumier said that the division received notice on Wednesday that some type of action was forthcoming on Jan. 22.
“We had no sooner sent information out to parents today about being prepared for situations where teachers would withdraw their services in some areas or a provincial wide strike that we had to basically prepare them for anything on that continuum,” Trumier said.
Trumier said that the division had already cancelled extracurricular activities before the notice by the STF and now they have closed schools on Monday.
“It’s putting people in a position to have a bit of time to make the plans that are necessary for their children,” Trumier said.
She explained that a province-wide strike of any type is significant.
“It’s a significant message to look at different ways to improve working conditions for teachers and for students and we’re hoping for a positive resolve, and we’ll trust that the two bargaining committees will continue to work at this to resolve it quickly,” Trumier said.
Government disappointed by second one-day strike announcement
The Government of Saskatchewan said in an email to the Herald that they are disappointed with the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) most recent announcement on 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,” reads the email. “The GTBC remains at the table, ready to discuss competitive salary and benefits but cannot negotiate without the STF at the table as well.
“Outside of the collective bargaining process, we have said we are actively working to address concerns around class size and complexity, and we are doing exactly what we said we would with a $53.1 million investment towards enrolment and complexity, a teacher-led innovation and support fund, and specialized support classroom pilot projects.
“As indicated by Deputy Premier and Minster of Finance, Donna Harpauer in a press conference on Thursday morning, there are 21 tables actively negotiating and it is our hope that the STF will come back to the table and be one of them.”