The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the provincial Government Trustee Bargaining team once again reached an impasse in their lengthy contract negotiations. This leads to another round of work to rule sanctions beginning in schools on Monday. 

On Thursday morning, STF president Samantha Becotte explained at a virtual press conference that there continues to be room for optimism based on previous progress. However, she said there must be political will to move forward on the concerns surrounding classroom size and complexity, along with teacher compensation. 

She also provided a rationale for why the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee rejected the GTBC’s proposal for binding arbitration in light of the STF’s request for the same measure in March. 

“While the GPC offered binding arbitration as a possible path forward, we agree with the Minister again that the best agreements are negotiated at the table,” Becotte explained. “Students need more supports now. Binding arbitration can be a lengthy process which would guarantee that no additional supports would be provided by September and possibly not even January if it's a prolonged period before we get a decision from the arbitrator.” 

The five days of negotiations in May provided what Becotte considered solid progress toward an agreement. However, Saskatchewan teachers rejected the contract proposal with a 55 percent “no” vote. Talks resumed for one day on June 5 before the impasse was declared, leading to the announcement of returning sanctions involving work to rule.  

The earlier decision on the part of the STF to request arbitration was based on the feeling that no progress was being made during negotiations. The feeling at the time was that arbitration was the only avenue to arrive at a solution. In recent weeks, the tone at the table had changed, Becotte indicated. A renewed confidence that an agreement at the table was on the horizon led the STF to reject the intervention of an arbiter.  

“Yesterday, the GTBC was showing that they were ready to listen to solutions and find solutions and find that Saskatchewan-made solution that can start to address the conditions in our classrooms in a meaningful way. This is a ten-year problem that we’ve experienced with underfunding in education.” 

Becotte also rejected any notion that there was a split between the will of the province’s teachers and the messaging of the Federation.  

“In conversations with teachers, there were too many things included in the proposal that were promises for the future. We need to see solutions for the growing needs of our students and increases around classroom complexity now.  

Teachers provide us with our direction. I am that voice, but they provide me with the message, and what I hear consistently from teachers is that they are united in their need to fight for public education. I would say I’ve never experienced a time in my career where teachers are more united to find solutions.” 

Becotte acknowledged that if a return to the table isn’t forthcoming, the work to rule sanctions will have an impact on student experiences at the end of the school year. That will include graduations, school trips and even planning for next fall. Should the impasse extend into the summer months, she confirmed that plans are under way to deal with that contingency.  

“We’re always planning for the short term and the long term. We’re ready to continue the fight for public education. Whether bargaining continues or whether it doesn’t continue, we need to make sure it remains a priority – it remains a topic of conversation, and that fight will continue through the summer if bargaining hasn’t concluded. We’ll continue to advance the needs of teachers and students through every avenue.” 

Becotte is content that the understanding of the issues is firm on both sides. She welcomes a return to the table with all parties having the intent arriving and solutions, not more barriers.