Saskatchewan teachers and province back in talks, minister wants binding arbitration

  • Canadian Press

Saskatchewan's education minister says he wants to quickly wrap up a three-year contract with teachers by sending it to binding arbitration. Saskatchewan Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill speaks to members of the media after the release of the Saskatchewan budget in Regina, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

REGINA -- Saskatchewan teachers and the government are heading back to bargaining, a day after educators narrowly rejected the province's latest offer for a new three-year deal.

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation said in a news release Friday bargaining is to resume Wednesday. There will be no job action as it tries to work out a contract.

Earlier Friday, Saskatchewan Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said he wants to wrap up the agreement by sending it to binding arbitration, an option teachers say they are open to accepting.

Cockrill told reporters binding arbitration would allow students to finish classes and graduate without a hitch.

"We want to make sure (graduations) happen as normal. Students are looking forward to those, families are looking forward to those, teachers are looking forward to those," he said.

"We think binding arbitration is the best path forward now to make sure we can provide clarity to everyone, including teachers."

Samantha Becotte, president of the teachers federation, said earlier Friday she wants a chance to negotiate another deal before considering binding arbitration.

"We do want to provide the opportunity for teachers to continue to have a final say on what comes through within negotiations," she said.

"We are united in the fight to ensure that public education becomes and remains a priority for this government."

Binding arbitration would take bargaining out of the hands of both sides and give it to a neutral third party to settle the deal.

In March, the federation had asked to go into binding arbitration over classroom issues, including the need to address violent students and help others requiring additional supports. At that time, Cockrill rejected the idea, saying more negotiation was needed.

On Friday, he said he thinks enough progress has been made.

"We came to a tentative agreement that was agreed upon by (the government and federation leadership), and I think both sides left the table comfortable with the agreement we had come to," he said.

Teachers and the province have been at odds for a new contract for nearly a year.

In a bid to get the province to consider their demands, educators have gone on rotating strikes and pulled voluntary participation for lunch-hour supervision and extracurricular activities. A provincial basketball tournament known as Hoopla had been spiked as a result, though a smaller one-day version of the event took place.

In mid-April, negotiations resumed, resulting in the province providing its first offer. Teachers overwhelmingly rejected it, saying not enough was done on classroom issues and salary.

Both parties met again in May, and the province came up with a second offer, endorsed by federation leadership. It was rejected this week by 55 per cent of voting members for the same reasons.

Becotte said the federation is prepared to negotiate again to find out what more can be added to the agreement.

"We have lots of different suggestions of how that could look, but we need to have willing partners come to the table and engage in those conversations with us," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.