Sask. teacher's union, government disagree over who was willing to return to bargaining

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president says the government is telling the public one thing and saying something else to its own bargaining team.

Teachers' Federation president takes issue with proposed wage rollback

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, says the province never took the 3.67 per cent wage rollback off the bargaining table, even when it reached arbitration. (CBC News)

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president says the government is telling the public one thing and saying something else to its own bargaining team.

The issue is over a proposed 3.67 per cent wage rollback.

"There's really a substantial loss of trust at the bargaining table and in the sector and that's something that would need to be addressed well prior to getting back to the bargaining table," said Patrick Maze on Monday.

Last Friday, an arbitrator decided on a new contract for the province's 13,500 teachers. The contract freezes teachers' salaries in the first year of the agreement. Teachers will get a one per cent increase at the end of the second year of the contract, which expires Aug. 31, 2019.

In November, Minister of Finance Donna Harpauer said the government would not find $250 million in savings this year by asking all government workers to take a 3.5 per cent wage cut. The target was not included in the 2018-19 budget.

Maze said the government proposal of 3.67 per cent salary reduction for teachers was never removed even when it reached the arbitrator. 

"They had the ability to give the arbitrator different instructions and they never did."

Maze said the STF made concessions on pensions, "substantially reducing" its initial proposal to the arbitrator.

On Monday, Minister of Education Gord Wyant said the government did not leave the bargaining table; it was the teachers' union that decided to leave the contract in the hands of an arbitrator.

In order to change the government's mandate of a 3.67 per cent wage reduction, Wyant would have needed cabinet approval. He said it was his intention to seek that if the negotiations had continued.

"I think you can draw the conclusion that I would have been asking for a different number," Wyant said.

STF and minister disagree on invitation to negotiate

Wyant said he had informal discussions with the STF and Maze about heading back to the bargaining table but the offer was never accepted.

"I'd invited the STF back to the bargaining table saying I was prepared to go back to my colleagues to say, 'I want to go back to the bargaining table with teachers.' They decided they wanted binding arbitration and that's the result of the binding arbitration."

But Maze said that is not accurate.

The STF president said Monday that he spoke with Wyant twice. On one occasion, Maze said he brought up the minister of finance's comment to the media that the province would not achieve its goal of 3.5 per cent salary reductions across the public sector.

Maze said that was the "major stumbling block" in negotiations but said Wyant never offered to meet. Maze said the only invite to the table came from the government's bargaining unit which told the union they would go back to negotiations if it was over salaries alone.

Maze said the union was not prepared to go back with no assurance the 3.67 per cent reduction was off the table and not being able to negotiate teacher time and class size composition. 

He said the minister has never met with the STF executive since taking over in February.

Minister of Education Gord Wyant says he was prepared to go to cabinet for a new wage mandate for teachers, but the invitation to meet with the union was not accepted. (CBC)

When asked about criticism of the contract on Monday, Wyant said that's the risk when a deal isn't negotiated.

"It's a lot better to be at a table than to have someone else dictate what the terms of a contract are going to be," Wyant said.

The government has removed teachers' right to file for arbitration. Premier Scott Moe said the province will fund the new contract.

​Both sides will meet face-to-face over a new contract in May.​

Arbitrator rules on class size and teacher time

Maze said the salary increase of one per cent was "disappointing."

However, on what Maze described as brighter notes, the arbitrator did recognize a task force's proposals on protecting teacher time, and capping teachers' assigned time, as well as broadened the scope under which teachers could file grievances about working conditions.

He called the decision by the arbitrator to not revisit class size and composition "frustrating."

with files from Janani Whitfield