After rounds of negotiations, the teachers' contract with the province was sent to binding arbitration. They learned the details of that contract over the weekend and reaction is coming in.
"Anytime you go to arbitration, the arbitrator is generally going to find some wins for both sides," explained Patrick Maze, the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF). "It's kind of a mixed bag. We've got a few things that were disappointing and a few things that we were excited to have achieved."
Despite the government asking for teachers to take a pay cut, the contract states a 0% increase for year one and a 1% increase for year 2.
"It was kind of a strange thing as the government was actually asking teachers for a 3.67% cut right from the first day of bargaining in face to face negotiations and the last day of arbitration. When you think of bargaining, there would be some give and take. It was a 3.67% cut from the first day to the last day so I would say it was more a demand than anything. Obviously, the arbitrator didn't agree with that."
"We would have preferred something more in line with the cost of living because living in Saskatchewan, things are not cheap and prices are rising on groceries and all kinds of goods. The CPI (Consumer Price Index) is at about 1.1% for last year and we receive zero for last year. So you lose your purchasing power a little bit and that's frustrating and of course, members would be upset about that."
"That said when it goes to arbitration, it up to the arbitrator to make a decision and so we have to accept that."
As for the pay raise in year two, Maze added that it doesn't actually take effect until September 1st, 2019.
"It's concerning. In negotiating, you generally want to frontload increases and this one is right at the very end of the contract."
"There's a number of things the arbitrator would have taken into consideration. They look at teachers' salaries across western Canada and they look at a number of items but they also do look at the cost of living in Saskatchewan and they look at the provincial economy and ultimately the arbitrator landed where he did."
There was also a decision regarding the number of assigned classroom hours for teachers.
"It came out of a legislative change way back in 2012 which basically defined the students' day but it effectively opened up teachers' days from having fairly tight definitions to having no definitions. There was a bottom cap, the Education Act was changed to read a minimum of five hours of instructional and noninstructional time and then the employer gets to set the days. So there was no top end to how much time a teacher could be assigned. Prior to 2012, teachers had assigned time of 985 hours every year which was effectively the students' day, past that, it was opened up to anything. So some school divisions shot up to well over 1000, one was at 1085 so a full hundred hours more than what teachers were working the previous year."
He added that there were fears that it would continue to escalate.
"The new provisions which government had previously agreed to and then failed to implement, and then we took it back to bargaining this year and they said they weren't interested in negotiating it. The arbitrator overruled that and said that it had to be implemented."
"So we have a cap now of 1044 assigned time hours. I know that sounds like not very much but that's the time teachers are assigned to be in school. We all know that teachers spend a lot of time on weekends and in the evenings doing marking and lesson-planning and things like that so that will continue, this is just the time they can be assigned into their school."
However, it wasn't all bad news.
"Getting that cap on assigned time is a positive. There are also some items that the government was trying to do that the arbitrator didn't allow. They wanted to scale back teachers' sick time provision and the arbitrator didn't allow that. The government also wanted teachers to pay their own regulatory board fees and many professions have their employer pay their professional dues and the arbitrator agreed with us on that one as well."
Late last fall, while the election campaign was still on to pick the next leader of the Saskatchewan Party, the STF launched a campaign called Pick a Premier designed to bring more awareness to the issues facing teachers and urging candidates to put more emphasis on education. Despite many promises made during the campaign, Maze is now left wondering at the lack of follow through by the current premier, Scott Moe.
"He promised during the campaign for $30 million into education. He kept that promise, the difficulty is the year before, $54 million was taken out so we're still short $24 million in operating funding despite the fact that we have 2700 more students. That would argue that we should have a substantial increase to the $54 million as opposed to simply putting $30 million back in and say that that's good."
He added that the negotiations also went through some rough patches.
"We had government publically announcing through Donna Harpauer (Finance Minister) that the 3.5% wage decrease that they were trying to scale back on all public employee groups but they never told their bargaining team that. It was a demand from the first day to the last day and so to hear that in the media and then be thinking that she's telling us it's off and the government trustee bargaining team would tell us that they haven't had that instruction, it's still on."
"It's little things like that that are quite frustrating."
Another issue important to teachers was the class size and composition.
"We had put forward a proposal for that and unfortunately the arbitrator didn't award it. So it's kind of funny that you have trustees across the province who are fighting to keep class sizes high. They fought beside government to not have that provision awarded when really, it would mean for lower class sizes which would mean an improvement in instruction for students. It seems strange that the government wouldn't want that."
"I think the government like to publically message that they're standing up for education but we're finding something quite different in reality."
Teachers will return to the bargaining table soon as this contract expires at the end of August 2019.
"We've already started planning for the next round of bargaining over a month ago. We're right back at it and we will be polling our members to ensure that the proposals put together are the ones that are most important to members and make sure that we've got their backing."
He noted that while salary was a disappointment, class sizes was just as much of a disappointment.
"We were really hoping to have students experience smaller classrooms so they could get more personalized instruction so they could achieve better in the classroom and it's unfortunate that that wasn't awarded. It's unfortunate that the government trustee bargaining team was so adamant that they didn't want it because we see it as really essential to student learning. When standardized tests come out and Saskatchewan does poorly across the country, you know that that's an indicator why."