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As teachers' strike looms, Sask. government has no plans to change course


As a one-day strike looms, the head of the Saskatchewan government's bargaining committee says teachers are welcome to discuss issues such as class sizes and complexity, just not at the bargaining table.

"There are ample other tables to discuss the level of funding for the sector, it is not a matter for the provincial collective agreement," Don Hoium told CTV News.

Hoium chairs the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC), a mix of representatives from the Saskatchewan government and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation announced a one-day strike, calling on the government to expand contract talks to include matters such as the number of students in each classroom and how students with more complex needs are supported.

But Hoium said GTBC is steadfast in its position that only compensation is up for discussion.

"The provincial collective agreement in Saskatchewan addresses salary and benefits. Programming matters are not something that is a bargainable item within our bargaining framework and Saskatchewan," Hoium said.

The STF announced its intention to strike following the release of a third-party conciliator's report, prepared after a series of meetings between the two sides in December.

While the conciliation panel found the two sides were far apart on many issues, the panel did state its belief that class size and complexity could potentially be included in negotiations without conflicting with provincial legislation.

The STF was quick to frame the conciliator's finding as validation for its argument that additional matters belong at the bargaining table.

However, Hoium said in the GTBC's view, Saskatchewan law doesn't allow for such discussions.

"In Saskatchewan, we have a very clear framework in legislation that says 'this is what's bargained about' and it deals with those items that are one-size-fits-all for every teacher in the province and that's why we address salary and benefits," Hoium said.

The STF said its five-day advance strike notice was meant to give parents and caregivers time to make alternate arrangements, and also give the GTBC a chance to come back to the bargaining table before Tuesday with a renewed mandate to discuss a greater range of issues and avert the strike.

"If government is willing to discuss longer-term commitments to address class complexity, teachers will return to the table," STF president Samantha Becotte said during Thursday's strike announcement.

But Hoium said the GTBC remains "firm" in its position that class size and composition is a decision best left to elected provincial officials and school board trustees.

"At the local level, the variation across our province is vast, from rural divisions to northern, small urban and large urban divisions and to try to look at something that would be a one-size-fits-all all for something as diverse as the K-12 education sector in our province, that will be impossible."

While the STF has accused the government of only offering up "no" for an answer and refusing to engage in real negotiations, Hoium says the two sides have made progress in some areas.

"Over the course of the negotiations, there's certainly been a lot of back and forth," Hoium said.

"We've had a number of agreements to date on articles, ranging from the grievance process, to looking at supporting teachers who are required to be quarantined and making changes associated with that. And then there are a number of other items around language clarity that we've undertaken."

Another point the GTBC disagrees on, according to Hoium, is the STF's characterization of a province-wide billboard and online advertising campaign launched during the summer.

The ads touted what was described as a "fair deal" for teachers, a proposed salary increase of seven per cent over three years. The ads also claimed Saskatchewan teachers pull in an average of $92,000 annually.

Following the launch of the billboards, Becotte described them as "attack ads" and said the average salary figure was not "accurate."

But Hoium said it was the union that first indicated would be doing its bargaining in the public sphere.

"This round of bargaining and the last round of bargaining, it was the teachers' bargaining committee that said they could not bargain in confidence, that it would be a public negotiation and so there really wasn't any departure from what occurred in the last round," Hoium said.

"Every negotiation has its own characteristics. This round is different from the last round to some extent. But again, it wasn't the choice of the GTBC to do public negotiations. That was the choice of the teachers' bargaining committee."

Teachers across Saskatchewan have been working without a contract since the STF's previous agreement with the province expired in August.

Classes at most schools in Saskatchewan will be cancelled on Tuesday as they walk off the job.

Days before the strike announcement, the province said it will run a pilot project, creating eight "specialized support" classrooms, each with up to 15 students at urban school divisions.

That was followed by another announcement of a $2.5 million fund to pay for teacher-suggested ideas to improve education. Through the end of the 2025 school year, a minimum of $10,000 will go towards each approved project, up to a maximum of $75,000.

Becotte accused the province of trying to sidestep the bargaining process through the announcements and noted that the short-term programs are rolling out during an election year. Top Stories

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