STF to vote on government’s final offer in coming days

Regina Leader-Post photos. (L) STF president Samantha Becotte speaks to the press after question period inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, March 14, 2024 in Regina. (R) Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill speaks to the press after question period inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, March 14, 2024 in Regina.

The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) will be voting on a final offer from the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) in the coming days.

The offer is a three-year agreement that would see salary increases of three percent in year one, three percent in year two and a two percent increase in years three with retroactive pay to September 2023.

STF president Samantha Becotte spoke to the media via zoom on Thursday morning.

“There are slight improvements from what was originally offered,” she said. “We did have a slight increase in terms of salary, but as I said, it doesn’t address the significant loss of purchasing power that teachers have experienced and have talked about needing to to see a correction.

“We have also seen improvements to start addressing the challenges around classroom complexity. So from where we ended with conciliation, we have seen the increased funding come within the multi year funding agreement with the SSBA. Teachers have no way to hold the government accountable to that and to ensure that those funds continue, but I strongly hope that regardless of what happens within this bargaining process, that members of the public continue to have a conversation around classroom complexity.”

The proposed agreement will be brought forward to STF members and will be voted upon on May 8 and 9. It will be the first time that the STF has taken a vote on a contract since sanctions were introduced in October.

“Regardless of the outcome of the vote on this offer, the bargaining process has taken a toll on the sector.” Becotte said. “The action that we have seen from the government, the actions from Saskatchewan School Boards Association, and the actions of some division administration have shown the lack of respect and appreciation for teachers in Saskatchewan and a lack of appreciation for the work that they do as professionals in classrooms. Relationships have been damaged and they will not be easily repaired. We need to ensure that we are working together in good faith with a real commitment to improving the experiences of students in all areas of the province.”

The STF is not providing any direction for members to vote for or against the proposed contract and the result will be entirely determined by the membership. Becotte says she is looking forward to talking with the membership ahead of the vote.

“I’m in a unique role here where my voice is not as important as the 13,500 teachers, and I fully respect them. My voice is really their voice, and so I look forward to having the conversation in depth with all of the members across the province. I look forward to hearing their feedback and where they are, I will 100 per cent support whatever the decision is from the 13,500 members across the province.”

There has been a difference in wording from both parties about the proposed deal. The STF has been calling it the final offer while the government has been calling it a tentative agreement.

“If you’re taking something to members, that’s a tentative agreement.” Education minister Jeremy Cockrill said during question period in Regina on Thursday. “I can’t control how the STF chooses to communicate about this…. Our understanding from the GTBC side of things, coming out of yesterday and the last two days of bargaining, is that we have a tentative agreement and that the STF was going to take that to their membership for ratification.

“At the end of the day, the ratification vote is up to STF membership,” Cockrill added. “I respect that process and I do hope that this deal is ratified because I think that’s what’s best for kids in this province is to move forward through this bargaining process. We have a good deal on offer here and it’s an opportunity to ensure that our kids can be back in the classroom and back on the track this spring and to make sure that there’s no sanctions for the rest of the school year.”

NDP education critic Matt Love says the provincial government’s messaging calling the offer a tentative agreement is not correct.

“There are different implications for the Teachers Federation than there are in other labor negotiations. I’ve yet to see clear details on that but we are seeing somewhat disingenuous messaging from the government calling this a tentative deal. It’s not a tentative deal. It will be up to teachers to decide what they think of this offer and that will happen.”

The STF has previously sought binding arbitration with the government. Binding arbitration would see a third party arbitrator brought in to decide the terms of the new deal.

Love says that the STF had good reasoning to seek that option.

“This government and Sask Party has always been willing to promise big on education and then fail to deliver. Teachers know that especially well. They were there in 2016 when the Sask Party promised things for our classrooms and then in 2017 when they cut it on classrooms with over 50 million dollars in cuts. They were there in 2020 when the government did the same thing, promised big in an election year and then gutted it the following year. Teachers know this well so the fact that they’re calling for accountability for a government that has failed them time and time again is a very reasonable approach.”

CFIB survey says one third of Saskatchewan businesses hurt by teachers’ strike

According to a press release, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says one third of Saskatchewan small businesses have been negatively affected by the ongoing Saskatchewan teacher’s strike.

The survey found that of the businesses impacted, 74 per cent said they are experiencing staffing challenges as employees with children have to leave work at odd hours or take days off to take care of their children.

“The ongoing teachers’ strike is disruptive for everyone, including local entrepreneurs,” said Brianna Solberg, CFIB provincial affairs director. “Business owners aren’t just worried about their operations, but they’re also worried about the wellbeing of their employees and their families.”

Nearly 70 per cent of business owners polled agree that the government should use all the tools available to end the strike as quickly as possible to avoid further disruptions.