STF disappointed in lack of response to billboard campaign amid byelection

Submitted photo. The province put up billboards addressing teachers' salaries ahead of a byelection and during collective agreement negotiations with teachers.

by Alec Salloum

Regina Leader-Post

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) called off bargaining this week as it grapples with details and figures brought forward by the Government of Saskatchewan at the bargaining table.

STF president Samantha Becotte also sent a letter to Saskatchewan’s chief electoral officer, Michael Boda, on Aug. 11 concerning a provincewide billboard, digital and bus advertising campaign discussing teacher salaries.

The letter to Elections Saskatchewan touches on the belief that the government is “stretching those guidelines” laid out in Section 277 of The Election Act, 1996 concerning advertising. Also, it says the campaign went public “during the early rounds of negotiations on a new province-wide collective agreement for teachers.”

The letter reads, “while it’s unreasonable to expect that an Act promulgated in 1996 could anticipate the ubiquity of social media, perhaps it behooves someone in your position to be advocating aggressively in the media for more up-to-date and rigorous legislation.”

The complaint is based on the proliferation of ads across Saskatchewan during the period of three byelections taking place.

But when it comes to the ads, Becotte said both in public and at the bargaining table there is a need for clarity around numbers and figures.

“We are really working to ensure that the information that we use at the bargaining table is true,” she said on Wednesday morning. “In light of the billboards that have been put out by the government of Saskatchewan, we’re struggling to align our math and our numbers with the numbers that have been presented.”

Becotte said that even with external consultations they were not able to replicate the province’s number, which states that in 2022 average teacher salaries in Saskatchewan were $92,000 compared to $90,300 for the rest of western Canada.

Those are the numbers posted on billboards across the province.

A wage grid within the collective bargaining agreement shows salaries in that neighbourhood, but they do not appear to be the norm.

According to the STF, “teachers in Saskatchewan schools regulated by The Education Act, 1995 are classified for salary purposes based on their academic qualifications and the type of teacher’s certificate they hold.” From that, the wage grid shows 56 possible salaries across “steps” and “class” specifications for teachers. Five of those pay a salary of $92,000 or more.

An emailed statement from the Ministry of Education said the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) is working in good faith and the billboards are standard.

“The Ministry of Education supports the GTBC with funding, including for public notification and information related to bargaining. This is not new and has been used before by both parties,” ministry spokesperson Chelsey Balaski said in an email.

“As the STF communicates with those it is responsible to, so too does the GTBC.”

Becotte said this makes her wonder what message the government is trying to send with the billboards. While salary is an important part of bargaining for the STF and its 13,500 members, other considerations are also top of mind Becotte said.

“Teachers have brought forward several proposals to improve conditions in the classroom that can have a significant impact,” specifically class size and compositions, which the province has not entertained as a possible avenue in bargaining, Becotte added.

She said there has been an “unwillingness to have a discussion about class size and class complexity” and that “they don’t believe it is a negotiable issue.”

She said the fight in this round of bargaining comes down to this: no matter where a student is in Saskatchewan, no matter their needs, “all students should have timely access to the professional support that they need. And that’s really not something that (the government is) willing to discuss.”