Thursday, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation offered to halt job action if the provincial government would agree to binding arbitration on the issue of class size and complexity. The provincial government replied, with Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill stating they would not agree to the binding arbitration on the matter, as they do not want the issues included in a collective agreement.  

Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncan talked with Discover Weyburn about the current labour dispute and the offer of binding arbitration.  

“What we’re talking about in terms of class size and complexity, we have an agreement with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and all of our school divisions who actually run the schools, so we have that agreement in place on class size and complexity,” the former Education Minister said. “Yes, it does involve obviously providing support to hire teachers, but it also provides funding for school divisions to hire other professionals that don’t fall under the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation contract, and we really can’t be in a position where we’re putting funding guarantees in a contract of a union that actually has implications for other unions.” 

The agreement Duncan mentioned was the new four-year funding agreement signed by the Ministry of Education and the SSBA last week. The agreement calls for $356.6 million per year for four years for class size and complexity. The agreement was criticized for some riders which would allow for the government to drop the funding based on budgetary concerns. Duncan noted this is something included in nearly all funding agreements the province has.  

“That language is in the agreements that we have with our universities that have a long-term commitment from the provincial government because every budget is dependent on appropriations. That’s just the way that the budgeting process works,” Duncan explained. He added the agreement provides a base amount for classroom supports, which is an increase from previous years. 

“It’s a multi-year agreement with the school divisions who actually run the schools in the province, so we will hold ourselves to that agreement, and certainly the school divisions will hold us to that agreement as well,” he continued. 

Duncan reiterated the only way a new deal between the STF and the provincial government will be reached is at the bargaining table.  

“There was conciliation late last year, but that’s not bargaining – that's dealing with the conciliator,” Duncan noted. “We need the teachers’ union leadership to get back to the table. We know that parents want a deal, we know that teachers want a deal, the school divisions want a deal, and the government does as well. We just need the teachers’ union leadership to also want a deal, and that’s going to be found at the bargaining table.” 

The position of the government on several issues has been publicly moved when it comes to the labour dispute. The government has offered the same formula for pay that is used for MLAs, which sees pay increase by the rate of inflation. As well, there have been offers of workplace safety and reporting enhancements.  

“I think we’ve essentially met all the things that they’re looking for, and over and above that,” Duncan stated, adding he sees it as the STF moving the goalposts every time the government offers something new.  

The sticking point of the negotiations has been the class size and complexity since the start of the labour dispute when the impasse in negotiations was declared in October. At that time, the issue went to a conciliation board. The report from the conciliation indicated class size and complexity could be part of the negotiations. The talks between the two sides have broken down since, with the job action starting in January. 

At this time, there is no word of negotiations resuming.