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Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and provincial government eager to negotiate new contract

After an announcement Wednesday evening that the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government will be returning to the bargaining table, STF president Samantha Becotte is “cautiously optimistic” about the future.

The STF announced they will be suspending all job action, including Thursday’s planned suspension of lunchroom services as contract negotiations resume.

“We are ready to negotiate all through the day, all through the night if needed, to reach an agreement with this government,” Becotte said. “We’re looking forward to the discussions that will begin on Monday and are feeling cautiously optimistic that we will finally be able to engage in real negotiations.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet on Monday, Feb. 12 in Saskatoon for two days.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill announced in a social media video that the province has authorized the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) to offer a new mandate for teachers.

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Teachers and the provincial government have been butting heads over a new contract agreement, with one of the main sticking points over classroom size and complexity.

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Becotte said she’s disappointed the mandate’s announcement has come this late but is happy it’s happening sooner rather than later.

And while the GTBC has been given a new mandate, education minister Jeremy Cockrill said the province is holding firm on its stance regarding class sizes and complexity, saying these issues are best dealt with by local school divisions.

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“There’s varying situations on what classrooms look like,” Cockrill said Thursday. “That’s why we leave it to school divisions and school communities to try and say, ‘OK, if there’s a classroom of (40 children), how do we add additional supports to support the teacher and make sure that kids in that classroom have the supports that they need to be successful and get a quality education?’”

It’s a statement Becotte hopes they reconsider, or the negotiations could be short-lived.

“If we’re not able to reach an agreement over those two days, further sanction action may be announced following the dates,” Becotte said. “The top priorities of teachers have not changed. We need to see improvements to teachers’ compensation, and we need to see improvements to students’ learning conditions and teachers working conditions.”

Cockrill said there are plans for increased investments heading into the next budget.

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“We want a quality education system in this province because we want our next generation to be able to participate in what we think is going to be some pretty exciting growth in the province over the next several decades,” Cockrill explained.

For Becotte, there is no reason promises like that could not be included in their next contract.

“If those commitments are real and we should be able to expect investments to last over a longer term, I don’t know why they might be hesitant to include them in an agreement where they can be held accountable,” Becotte argued. “We have been very clear that we cannot allow for these issues to be pushed off to a committee or to accept any empty promises of future investment. Students and teachers need real commitments, and they need them now.”

Moving forward, both sides say they hope they can begin coming to an agreement next week. If neither side budges, more job action could be on the way.

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