Conciliation board says no compromise reached on Sask. class sizes, recommends additional meetings
The conciliation board’s report is intended to guide bargaining, but is not binding
A report by a Saskatchewan conciliation board says classroom size and composition are still sticking points between the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and government, and that no compromise has been reached.
The conciliator's report says that even though there's no compromise, these are negotiable matters, the parties should still meet to discuss them.
"The board has concluded that the parties are too far apart to reach an agreement at this time addressing class size and composition concerns of the teachers," the report says, and recommends that the minister of education, STF leadership and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association "meet in person within the next four weeks to explore potential partnerships in support of the classroom environment.
"There should also be discussion of initiatives to improve the collective bargaining process going forward," the report says.
Bargaining committees for the teachers and the government met with a conciliation board in late January.
The two sides have been working on a new contract for at least nine months. They declared an impasse in November, prior to meeting the board.
The conciliation board's report, released earlier this week, is supposed to guide both parties in future bargaining, but is not binding.
The government argues the report did not specifically recommend that class sizes and composition be included in a collective bargaining agreement.
The bargaining committee for the teachers "asserts a right to bargain class size and composition matters" under the Education Act, and "as a constitutional right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," the concilation board's report says.
The report notes the government's bargaining committee "completely disagrees," but says "it is not the role of the conciliation board to resolve this structural dispute and we are not making any finding of a Charter violation.
"However, we do feel compelled to make recommendations that may assist the parties at the next and subsequent rounds of collective bargaining."
That includes urging both sides "to be proactive and seek an updated, mutually acceptable regime for addressing teacher working conditions in collective bargaining or otherwise," says the report.
Education Minister Gord Wyant has previously said the issue of class size and composition is "greater than the STF."
However, the province says it's committed to addressing the issue, and announced the formation of a committee to examine classroom size and composition in November.
The STF welcomed the conciliation report's findings.
"I think the report overall is good for teachers," said Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation. "It legitimizes their concerns of situations in the classroom that are unacceptable."
Maze said the report will "potentially" help get the STF back to the bargaining table, but said the government's bargaining committee has to commit to bringing more resources to the table.
Maze said the issue of classroom size is second to the issue of classroom composition and that there is a growing number of students who require additional support.
Maze also touched on the portion of the report that indicated the STF should meet directly with the Minister of Education and Saskatchewan School Boards, saying the recommendation "gives meaning" to concerns raised by the STF that those around the bargaining table don't have the power to present an adequate deal.
He said the STF would be willing to return to bargaining this afternoon if the government was willing to offer up more resources..
"The faster we're able to get this resolved the faster we can get supports in front of students and improve their education."
Wyant said the government is investing in education.
"This last year was the largest education budget at almost $2.5 billion," Wyant said, Thursday disputing Maze's position. "There's some considerable resources that get put to that."
Wyant said he is still focused on bringing in more resources for the education sector.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili said Thursday it feels like the conciliation board "took a pass" on addressing the topic of classroom sizes and composition.
He said the most important thing to him in the debate between both parties is seeing the classroom size issue settled.
In terms of compensation, the conciliation board recommended that teachers get a one per cent salary increase in year one of a new agreement, followed by a two per cent increase for years two and three.
Earlier this week, STF held a vote on implementing job-related sanctions.
"A sanction could be anything from basically nothing" to job action, Maze said Monday. "If we get a strong sanctions vote, it can itself sort of cause government to want to come back to the table."
The results of that sanction vote have not been released.
Wyant said he would be sending a letter to the STF and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association on Thursday and hoped all parties could meet "in the next couple of weeks."
- A previous version of this story stated that the conciliation board's report stated that class size should not be part of the bargaining process. In fact, the report says that class size does not have to be part of the process, but recommends the two parties discuss "initiatives to improve the collective bargaining process going forward."Feb 14, 2020 2:15 PM CT