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Sask. teachers say proposed deal acts as 'pinky promise' with no recourse, accountability


The union representing Saskatchewan's teachers and the province's education minister are accusing each other of walking away from the bargaining table.

The development comes after two days of contract talks were scheduled for this week, the first such negotiations in months.

“They agreed to come back to the table, we had a meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday that was the agreed upon time, we showed up at 1 p.m. and began to share the movement that we made on several items and by 1:30 p.m. we were the only ones left in the room,” Education Minister Jeremey Cockrill said during a news conference Wednesday morning.

An allegation the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Samantha Becotte quickly dismissed during her own news conference an hour later.

According to Becotte, the two sides separated around 2 p.m. on Monday, as is typical during bargaining, giving both sides a chance to discuss proposals privately.

Becotte said communications took place in an effort to set up a new time for discussions – eventually settling on 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, a meeting that never happpened.

The STF suspended a planned lunch-hour walk out last week after Premier Scott Moe announced he would send the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GBTC) back to the bargaining table with a renewed "mandate."

But the mandate was anything but “renewed” according to Becotte.

Becotte said the talks began with discussions around classroom complexity, a key issue the union has been looking to negotiate on. But she said it quickly became clear the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) wasn't able to move on the issue. The GTBC includes provincial government and school board representatives.

“We had asked the GTBC to call the (education) minister and get further direction on what we had proposed because it was clear they have not been provided with the authority to actually engage in negotiations at that time,” she said.

“Unfortunately, shortly after 3 p.m. (Monday) we received communication from the GTBC that they would not be returning.”

She said the provincial government then directly contacted the STF’s bargaining committee with a proposal related to classroom complexity outside the bargaining process.

“This agreement doesn't include anything new from what we have seen with their pilot projects or one time funding. The challenge with this is that they can cancel the agreement at any time,” Becotte said.

“Essentially the Ministry of Education and the Saskatchewan Party government are trying to make a pinky promise with teachers while they cross their fingers behind their back," Becotte said, noting the government's attempted side deal did not include the province's locally elected school boards.

"The minister is saying that the decisions around funding (are) best made at the local table, decided to leave school boards out of this agreement. To me that's a clear indication of how little respect and value this government actually has for those local representatives. All of government messaging is aimed at misleading the public," Becotte said.

Following the breakdown of negotiations, the STF announced it would resume job action, with another one-day strike scheduled for some school divisions on Friday along with a province-wide noon hour walkout.

Teachers have stated their biggest concerns during this round of negotiations are issues such as classroom size and complexities, even trumping salaries.

While an independent conciliator’s report found the issues could potentially be discussed in contract negotiations, the government has remained steadfast in its approach, instead announcing short-term pilot projects related to the issue.

“Over the last several months government has made some investments to address some of the challenges that we’re seeing in classrooms around enrollment growth and around complexity,” Cockrill said.

According to Cockrill, the province has added $40 million to school divisions for the current year to address growth and enrollment as well as complexity issues.

“We have the $7 million dollars every year in our budget for additional liaise, we have 800 more additional EAs in our Saskatchewan schools than we did five years ago, as well as the two pilot projects that we have announced,” Cockrill said.

Cockrill claims the province will have a room ready for the two sides to negotiate in at 9 a.m. each day morning forward.

“Our team will be ready to get a deal done and hopefully the union leadership decides that they also want to get a deal done.”

Cockrill reiterated that the province has shown movement in favour of teachers on several items and is willing to discuss getting a deal done.

“That’s what we want because again not having a deal in place provides unpredictability for students and families, so we’re available every single day and we sure hope union leadership decides to join us.”

“I would love to be at the table and having meaningful conversations and finding solutions to the challenges that students and teachers are facing in classrooms in all areas of this province,” Becotte added.

“Unfortunately, I am spending more of my days, sharing the realities of the situation within bargaining and showing that the misinformation that this minister continues to share.”

Saskatchewan’s teachers have been without a contract since August of 2023, initial bargaining began three months prior.

-- With files from Josh Lynn, Cole Davenport Top Stories

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