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Final offer or tentative agreement? Teachers, province differ on what latest deal means

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Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) President Samantha Becotte says two days of “difficult” negotiations has led to a “final offer” with slight improvements to salary and the inclusion of a line in the collective agreement – promising to address classroom complexity issues.

The province has described the proposal as a tentative agreement, while the STF has classified it as a “final offer.”

“We heard ‘final offer’ from the GTBC (Government Trustee Bargaining Committee) several times when we were at the bargaining table,” Becotte said in a news conference on Thursday. “We pushed on that, we really tried to engage in those good faith back and forth conversations, but we heard them repeat that several times that this was the final offer.”

The GTBC opened bargaining by returning to the province’s opening salary proposal – first advertised as part of the government’s billboard campaign back in July, according to the STF.

The offer includes a three year agreement, a salary increase of three per cent in year one, three per cent in year two, and two per cent in year three with retroactive pay to September 2023.

Saskatchewan teachers will vote on the offer from May 8 to 9th.

“Their vote, their voice is the most important within this process,” Becotte said.

She went on to say while there was a slight increase in terms of salary, the offer doesn’t address ongoing concerns.

“It doesn't address the significant loss of purchasing power that teachers have experienced,” Becotte added. “But we have also seen improvements to start addressing the challenges around classroom complexity.”

The improvement comes in the form of a singular line in the proposed agreement – promising that the accountability framework outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the province, STF and school boards – would be followed and honoured.

“Unfortunately, as we have talked about with concerns around items outside of bargaining with classroom complexity, anything within the letter of undertaking would be non-binding and there is no dispute resolution process,” Becotte explained.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said he has been clear all along that the best deal would come from the bargaining table.

“It was incredibly encouraging to have both our both of our bargaining teams spend a couple of days at the bargaining table,” he said.

Cockrill said he is hopeful that the STF membership chooses to ratify the agreement and not go back down the path of job action.

“I think there’s some good things in this agreement that is good for teachers, good for the province, and at the end of the day, good for students to ensure that we don’t have sanctions going forward,” he said.

Cockrill said while the MOU is not part of the agreement, there is an article in the agreement that references the MOU exists and government intends to honour it.

“I think for teachers to have a voice and be able to provide feedback to school divisions on how those funding dollars are allocated in school communities all across the province, that’s a good thing,” he said.

“That’s something the government is serious about honouring, that’s why there’s a reference to the MOU in the contract.”

Cockrill said that this is one of the most positive spots the two sides have been in over the last several months and hopes the STF makes a decision based on what’s best for students going forward.

“There’s not a lot of winners when it comes to bargaining and I think nobody’s lost more throughout this whole process than our kids in this province,” he said.

Educators have remained adamant classroom size and complexity is their most important concern – an issue the province has repeatedly refused to speak about at the bargaining table in the past – opting to defer to school divisions on how best to tackle the issue.

The offer comes after the two sides agreed to a return to bargaining on April 12 after not having sat down for talks since Feb. 13.

Saskatchewan teachers have been without a contract since August of 2023, with initial bargaining beginning in May 2023. The STF declared impasses in October and February.

Job action – which officially began in mid January – has consisted of one-day strikes, withdrawal of lunch hour supervision, and cancellation of extracurricular activities.

Most recently, the STF announced "work to rule" job action, which the federation said would be in place until talks resumed.

As a final thought, Becotte reiterated the toll nearly a year of bargaining, job action and rhetoric has taken on relationships between the government and educators.

“The process has really been detrimental to those relationships,” she said. “Regardless of what the outcome is of this vote, there needs to be a commitment from all of the provincial partners to start to repair those relationships and to start to show teachers the respect that they deserve as professionals.”

--With files from Drew Postey.

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