Saskatoon

Education minister accusing teachers of 'walking away from kids' after job action announced

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) announced Monday that teachers will begin job action later this week. The announcement comes after about 10 months of bargaining talks with the provincial government.

Teachers in Sask. will implement work-to-rule sanctions Thursday

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said the teachers' decision to stop extra-curricular activities amounts to walking away from the children. (Matt Howard/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) announced Monday that teachers will begin job action later this week. The announcement comes after about 10 months of bargaining talks with the provincial government.

Starting Thursday, teachers will show up no more than 15 minutes before the start of the school day and leave no more than 15 minutes after the end. They will not provide any extra-curricular or voluntary services. They will continue to supervise students during lunch and recess.

"We recognize that parents are going to be inconvenienced in the mornings, especially with some supervisory duties that occur in schools, and after the school day," said STF president Patrick Maze on Monday. 

"Yet at the same point we know that this is an important issue. And teachers voted 90.2 per cent in favour of doing something in order to meaningfully address this."

STF president Patrick Maze says the government admits there is a problem but refuses to address it. (Alexis Lalament/CBC News)

Saskatchewan's Education Minister Gordon Wyant said the sanctions would have a negative impact on students. 

"Obviously we're disappointed," Wyant said.

"The fact that the STF and the union has walked away from the bargaining table, they walked away from conciliation and now they're walking away from kids."

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he was "amazed" to hear that comment from the minister.

"Here's the guy who has presided over cut after cut in our education system, who's watched our per-student funding fall since 2016," Meili said after question period.

"Seven thousand more kids [in school], not a single dollar more — and he's accusing teachers of walking away from kids?"

Meili said teachers are standing up for the students, not walking out.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili said on Monday that the province's teachers are standing up for students, not walking away, after accusations from the Education Minister during question period. (Germain Wilson/CBC)

Although teachers will continue to supervise students during lunch breaks, extra-curricular activities like event planning, club meetings and tutoring will not occur during those breaks.

The work-to-rule sanctions also apply to principals and vice-principals, but they have been given leeway for a two-day transition period to stay and watch as supervision is provided before and after school hours. The STF said the principals can then provide feedback to divisions to make sure there is adequate supervision going forward.

The province offered $25 million over five years, much lower than the $100 million the STF asked for over a three-year period. 

"Everybody around the table agrees that there [are] issues that need to be addressed, it's a case of government coming to the table and meaningfully wanting to make a difference in our schools and we're not seeing that," said Maze.

Teachers in Saskatchewan have been without a contract since August 2019. The two sides were bargaining as recently as last week.

One major sticking point has been whether class size should be part of bargaining. Minister Wyant has previously said class size is not something the government should worry about.

Maze said more resources are also needed to address classroom "complexity" and composition that considers the needs of students with special needs such as mental health, autism or language needs.

"If the system were properly funded we would see school divisions making the right decisions. Right now with the chronic underfunding school divisions are having to choose winners and losers and argue who is the least of the losers," said Maze.

"Students' needs aren't being properly assessed given the chronic underfunding, so some of that would be going to diagnostic tests."

Maze said the sanctions will continue until the provincial government will "step up."

In early February, more than 96 per cent of teachers took part in a sanctions vote, with 90 per cent of them voting in favour of a job action mandate.

The last sanctions vote was held in 2011, when the province's teachers went on strike for a day. A week later they went on strike for two days.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said the work-to-rule sanctions will not apply to principals and vice-principals until March 16. In fact, the sanctions do apply to principals and vice-principals, but they have been given leeway to stay before and after school hours for a two-day transition period.
    Mar 10, 2020 2:55 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alicia Bridges is a former CBC Saskatoon reporter who is now working in Australia.

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