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Sask. teachers announce full-day, rotating strikes

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Teachers across Saskatchewan will walk off the job in a series of rotating one-day strikes.

"This does not have to be this way. They don't want to be taking these actions. (But) teachers cannot continue working without knowing that they will have adequate supports to meet their student's learning needs," said Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) president Samantha Becotte while announcing the first batch of walk-offs.

On Thursday, teachers in cities including Moose Jaw, Prince Albert and North Battleford, and many towns throughout the province will hit the picket line. 

According to the STF, the following divisions will be affected by the Feb. 1 strike:

  • Holy Trinity Catholic School Division schools
  • All Horizon School Division schools
  • All Prairie South School Division schools
  • All Prince Albert Catholic School Division schools
  • All Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division schools
  • All Light of Christ Catholic School Division schools
  • All Living Sky School Division schools
  • Sakewew High School (North Battleford)

The STF said the strike will include Distance Learning Centre teachers and French-language schools in the affected areas.

Becotte would not say when another rotating strike might occur.

"Any further action requires the 48-hour notice that we are legislated to provide. So if there is another announcement you'll be provided with that notice time and in terms of these, we have a long-term plan and a short-term plan. Our goal is to get a negotiated agreement. Like I said, we do not want to be taking these actions," Becotte said.

More than 13,000 teachers walked off the job province-wide for one-day strikes on Jan. 16 and Jan. 22.

The STF has threatened to engage in job action until the Saskatchewan government agrees to discuss classroom sizes and supports for students with complex needs at the bargaining table.

However, the provincial government has remained steadfast in its belief that those decisions are best left to local school divisions.

The two sides began talks in May before the STF declared a bargaining impasse in October.

Shortly after the impasse was declared, 90 per cent of the STF's members voted 95 per cent in favour of potential job action, up to an including full withdrawal of services

The two sides met with a third-party conciliator in December. While the conciliation panel said class size and complexity could potentially be bargainable items under Saskatchewan legislation it did not offer a recommendation one way or the other,

Throughout the bargaining process, the province has touted its offer of a seven per cent salary increase for teachers over three years, even going as far to publicize it on billboards and through online ads.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, the Saskatchewan government again pointed to its proposed salary offer as well as a pair of short-term pilot projects unveiled just before the STF's first strike announcement.

One program will create eight specialized "support" classrooms and the other will help fund teacher-suggested ideas to improve education.

"Outside of the collective bargaining process, the Government of Saskatchewan 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.," the statement said.

Becotte said any steps taken by the government won't be sufficient unless they are backed up by contractual language.

"We don't understand why the government is so hesitant to make long-term commitments. We have seen where government has a pre-election budget and it looks really good and then the next year everything is cut back or those investments are gone and even clawed back from school divisions," Becotte said.

"We need to ensure that regardless of who the governing party is, they are committed to investing in our kids."

In its statement, the government also reiterated its opinion that based on projections, the STF's opening salary request of a 2 per cent annual raise over four years combined with the yearly increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) would amount to a 23 per cent pay hike.

"Teachers have been impacted for a number of years by their salaries not keeping pace with inflation and this was a message that we heard across the province," Becotte said.

"But these are opening proposals. We are ready to negotiate on any of these items. But we need government willing to negotiate on them too. And again, I think I've said it before, but for those that aren't aware: MLAs do have a tie to CPI on their salary increases. So if it makes sense for MLAs to have a tie to CPI? There are other teacher organizations across Canada that have ties to CPI." 

Teachers have been without a contract since the end of August. 

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