Can we ever get this fixed?

Sask Bulletin
July 11, 2020
By Jens Nielsen, Editor of the Saskatchewan Bulletin

All right, so there you have it. Done and dusted.

The province’s 13,500 teachers have a new four-year Provincial Collective Bargaining Agreement after teachers voted 85 percent in favour. The nuts and bolts indicate a two percent salary hike starting in the fall and each of the following two years until the termination of the contract in August 2023.

First and foremost, it means teachers can put this drama behind them for a while at least. Will there be dancing in the streets? Probably not, for a variety of reasons in these bizarre times.

Nobody is suggesting teachers are going to have to seek out offshore tax havens in order to secure their extravagant wage increase, but on the flip side of the coin, it does provide some degree of stability. Currently, that is a precious commodity many can only envy.

Ask many of those who have lost businesses or jobs if they would settle for an actual contract providing some certainty for the next three-plus years, since the contract actually goes back to September of last year.

Suppose we are honest about a few things here. First of all, you would not need to be a clairvoyant to realize from the outset that class size and composition was never going to be part of this deal. Call it intransigence on the government’s position; the reality was that the resistance (and even implementation) was always going to be a long shot and so it was in the best interest of all to move this further down the road.

Moreover, you also have to know going in that there are going to be malcontents among teachers who wanted either more on grid or less than four years. Such is life. At the very least, members had their chance to weigh in via the voting procedure and that has to be respected by all.

From a personal standpoint–and I have thankfully never been anywhere near a bargaining table in my life–I find this whole process to be tedious, if not significantly flawed. Sure, the faces at the table might change, but during the two-plus decades that I have been part of this world, the one constant that seems to be written in stone is the layers of representatives that the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee send to the table.

It never changes–trust me. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation research folks spend countless hours coming up with reams of information to support the basis for what they seek. The other side, meanwhile, listens and then reports back to the next layer and so on. Those folks sitting across the table never have the ability or, arguably, the desire to sign off on any of these proposals they are presented with.

The scenario is always the same. It has to go back to the Treasury Board or whoever sits in those dark rooms in Regina with the authority to actually cut a cheque.

That reminds me of the other bewildering aspect of all this. We have seen time and again during this global pandemic how amazingly the government can find a few million here and there lying around to prop up some ailing sector of the economy. Laudable surely in this time, and so what if the debt climbs a few billion? Just who is going to call in the loan? It is not as if you or I fail to pay our financial obligation.

So my point is if there is now three years until the next time we have to go through this song and dance, wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was the political will to cut through all this nonsense and actually be upfront about things? Both sides bring two or three vital areas they want to try to address and then maybe, with a little give-and-take, we can actually plausibly say everyone is in this for the students.

This whole pandemic circus has surely taught us that there are children out there who need to have this fixed and to have the necessary supports in place for the long term. Then, everyone could sleep better at night.