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Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation losing hope for return to bargaining table

As students were heading into Easter break, there was hope the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) and the ministry of education would return to the bargaining table.

But as things have progressed, the STF isn’t feeling so hopeful and fears they might be at another standstill in contract negotiations.

On Thursday, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was offered to teachers with support from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.

Cockrill said all parties would work together to create an accountability framework for the multi-year funding agreement that was signed between the SSBA and the education ministry earlier this year.

On Tuesday, however, STF president Samantha Becotte said attitudes have changed.

“Their offer unfortunately is once again one of those take-it-or-leave-it offers,” Becotte said. “They’re not willing to engage in a back-and-forth conversation.”

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“We responded on Thursday and both our staff at the federation, as well as ministry staff made the commitment to work over the weekend to try and get the MOU to a place where we would be able to get back to the table.”

Becotte went on to say they wanted to negotiate on the framework accountability being in the binding contract. She said despite the promise made in the MOU, the government won’t make it binding.

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“We have experienced in the past where MOUs have been walked back on by government and without that dispute resolution process, there isn’t a way to hold anyone accountable,” Becotte said.

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In a statement from the government of Saskatchewan, they said late last week, the “Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) sent its weekly invitation to the STF to return to the bargaining table, as they have for the last several weeks. Conversations on resuming negotiations are still on going.”

“Government and school boards remain firm that class size and complexity will not be included in the new collective agreement. However, government has offered the STF the ability to participate in the development of the accountability framework MOU and the subsequent framework. Their involvement would allow teachers to have direct input in the formation of the accountability framework that would oversee how the $356.6 million for classroom supports, as announced in the 2024-25 provincial budget, is utilized.”

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Despite both parties seeming to be at another standstill, there might be other options.

“The government still has a lot of cards, whether or not they want to play them,” University of Regina business and administration associate professor Andrew Stevens said.

“Whether or not they’re constitutionally valid or if they could defend it publicly against scrutiny from the teachers or the member of the general populace is another question.”

Stevens said the government could bring in an arbitrator or pass a legislative law to close negotiations.

On the STF side, Stevens said increased job action could continue, and a full strike is always on the table.

The issue of binding arbitration is not something new to the government, according to Stevens.

“The provincial government on many occasions has been very reluctant when it doesn’t have to engage in binding arbitration,” he explained. “We saw that with the Co-op refinery lockout.”

“What they might be thinking is they can get what they need out of the current course of collective bargaining, and it’s kind of like calling the bluff of the teachers if they’re going to amplify things.”

In terms of the MOU, Stevens said it makes sense why the STF is concerned.

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“The MOU and the funding model that’s been organized behind the teachers back, there’s no strings attached to it,” he said. “The government can take it or leave it in the future. So I think the teachers are right to be concerned about it.”

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