Province’s teachers endorse new contract with 85 percent in favour

Sask Bulletin
June 17, 2020

Patrick Maze

 

Patrick Maze, STF President

Against the considerable uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, Saskatchewan teachers clearly felt the security offered in the Provincial Collective Bargaining Agreement was of the utmost importance.

As a result, the province’s 13,500 teachers voted 85 percent in favour of the four-year deal that had been tentatively agreed on by the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee and the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee.

The vote, which was held electronically for the first time by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, took place May 19 to 21.

As mentioned in the May edition of the Saskatchewan Bulletin, STF President Patrick Maze acknowledged that the landscape had changed dramatically in recent weeks so that what might have been unpalatable weeks earlier, took on a whole new look once the pandemic hit.

When the tentative deal had come by quite unexpectedly, Maze stressed that “things changed so quickly and with the downhill trajectory in the economy, we felt we should put it in front of teachers to give them voice.

“Who could possibly have predicted a pandemic? So when something monumental happens, it means that as a bargaining team we have to recognize that and quickly shift our strategy. Clearly our members realized this as well, and they were concerned with the provincial economy,” Maze added.

Therefore, for teachers, regaining lost purchasing power and alleviating challenges of class complexity became somewhat secondary to the job security issue. In addition, modest two percent increases will take effect in the fall and continue each of the following two years until the expiration of this contract, slated for August 31, 2023. There is also allowance for similar two percent increments in allowances for principals, vice-principals and assistant principals.

Maze stressed that acceptance of the Agreement does not signal that teachers’ concerns have necessarily been addressed.

“However, teachers recognize the world has changed dramatically and settling the contract enables them to focus their energy on supporting their students by continuing to adapt their teaching strategies and provide quality, emergency remote learning for the rest of this school year,” he said.

In order to address class complexity, the STF is participating with sector partners in a new provincial class size and composition committee. The committee’s structure is modelled after the Education Sector Response Planning Team, and the Federation is cautiously optimistic a collaborative sector approach, like the COVID-19 response, can be replicated to address class complexity.

“We remain deeply committed to ensuring students have equitable access to the supports and resources they need,” said Maze. “We will continue to propose and advocate for solutions through the new committee. If government fails to implement meaningful change, we will explore all avenues including future rounds of bargaining to ensure students’ needs are met.”

According to Maze, the status quo is unacceptable, while adding that given the length of the contract there is ample opportunity for government to show teachers that they are serious about addressing their concerns.

“We would always prefer to have these things in written form as a means to guarantee a commitment; but the important part is that there is a real will on the part of government to do the right thing and be creative in finding solutions.”

Meanwhile, government has also agreed to create new educational regulations that would compel school boards to provide the Federation with a list of all substitute teachers each school year.

The acceptance of the Agreement culminates what has been a year of often-tempestuous negotiations, including the STF declaring an impasse and thereafter the failure of conciliation to bring the parties together.

Preceding the announcement of a tentative agreement, 96.6 percent of the teachers in the province had voted an overwhelming 90.2 percent in support of sanctions. However, that was literally only weeks before schools were closed by the government in response to the then-spiralling COVID-19 pandemic.