Arbitrator gives teachers 5.99% pay raise

Alberta's 43,000 teachers are getting an 5.99 per cent salary raise following a decision by an independent arbitrator released Wednesday.

Alberta's 43,000 teachers are getting an 5.99 per cent salary raise following a decision by an independent arbitrator released Wednesday.

The decision settles a dispute between the province and the Alberta Teachers Association over the Alberta Average Weekly Average Earnings index used to calculate pay raises under the teachers' five-year contract.

"Both the ATA and the government agreed to the arbitration and the result was a fair process determined by a neutral party so we're very pleased," said ATA president Carol Henderson. "What it mostly did was resolve the uncertainty surrounding teacher salary increases for 2009/2010."

Statistics Canada originally calculated the amount at 4.85 per cent for 2008-2009, but it later revised the method it used to calculate the figure, and came up with an amount of 5.99 per cent instead.

The province wanted to stick with the lower number because the higher figure meant another $23 million in teacher salaries. The dispute was referred to an arbitrator in November.

The arbitrator, Andrew Sims, handed down his decision on Tuesday but it wasn't made public until Wednesday afternoon.

"Of course we're really pleased that our arguments prevailed," Henderson said. "We were absolutely convinced that it was going to be a fair process, he was going to hear both sides of it and the mediator would come down with a response which he did and it happened to be in favour of our position."

But Education Minister Dave Hancock said he doesn't have the money to immediately cover the pay increase in his current budget, so the school boards will have to find the extra money for now.

"For the next two months until the budget's passed, I'm not in a position to go back to Treasury Board to ask for adjustments," he said. "So I've explained that to the boards … that I will be discussing with my colleagues on Treasury Board the implications of this for the system and for funding. But that they will have to bear with us through the budget process."

The decision applies to teachers working in Alberta's public, separate and francophone schools. The current five-year collective agreement was negotiated in 2007.

In Calgary, Board of Education spokesman Pat Cochrane said officials will pay out $7.4-million from reserve funds to cover the increase for teachers and staff.

"We, as a school board, will honour this decision by expediting the adjustment and retro pay from Sept. 1, 2009 for all of our employees impacted by this decision," Cochrane said. "The CBE is positioned to absorb the impact of this decision with its reserve funds."

Edmonton Public Schools chairman Don Fleming said the board has enough money to cover the increase but counting on the province for additional funding in the next couple of months.

 "It's about $6.5-million," Fleming said. "I take the minister at his word when he says he'll work as hard as he can to get that money for us - and I believe he will."