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Saskatchewan teachers wrapping up voting on new wage deal amid concern over a no vote

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP says the province needs to stop dawdling and sabre-rattling with teachers over a new collective agreement and just get the deal done.

NDP Leader Carla Beck made the comments Thursday, just hours before teachers completed the second and final day of voting on whether to accept the new agreement with Premier Scott Moe’s government.

Results of the vote were slated to be released Thursday night.

“(Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill) would rather fearmonger than actually get to the table and get a deal, and that is a dangerous game he’s playing with our kids’ education,” Beck told reporters at the legislature.

“There have been so many opportunities, not just during the course of bargaining but over a decade, where these issues have been raised and the government has refused time and time again to address them.”

The Saskatchewan Party government is promising wage increases of three per cent in the first and second years, followed by a two per cent raise in the third year.

It has also pledged to follow through on a commitment of more funding for classroom supports.

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the province had been at an impasse for months before reaching an agreement.

To push their case, teachers have gone on rotating strikes and refused to do volunteer activities, including lunchroom supervision and extracurricular work, in pushing for more supports for students.

Such job action in March caused a provincial basketball tournament known as Hoopla to be cancelled, though schools found a workaround for a smaller, one-day version of the event to take place. 

This week, Cockrill raised the stakes on the teachers’ vote.

He said he would consider extending the school year should teachers vote no and resume their job action.

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Samantha Becotte said those remarks showed Cockrill was trying to influence the vote. 

Teachers have wanted the government to include language in the contract that says the province will address classroom sizes and supports. They say they’re dealing with increased violence in the classroom and students who are struggling with speech and language issues.

The province, however, has resisted having those items in the contract. It has instead promised in the proposed agreement it will follow through on a recent funding deal with school boards that includes $46 million more for supports.

Jaimie Smith-Windsor, the president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, said it’s premature to speculate on what will happen should teachers vote no.

She said school boards are respecting the process.

“If there’s a yes (vote), we’ve got lots of work to do to restore partnerships and the stability that benefits high-quality education for kids,” Smith-Windsor said.

“And if it’s a no, there’s still lots of work to do to get back to the bargaining table and get to an agreement.”

Becotte said Wednesday the federation will ask for another round of negotiations should members vote no.

“We’ve laid out positives of why members may want to accept the offer and we’ve laid out positives of why members may want to reject the offer,” she said.

“And we’ve laid out consequences of either decision.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first publishedMay 9, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press

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