STF cites primary concern is student welfare in schools
In early October 2023, the Teacher’s Bargaining Committee of Saskatchewan declared that they had reached an impasse in their talks with the provincial government.
The Teacher’s Bargaining Committee began the process in hopes of advancing negotiations. 10 proposals for negotiations, including proposals pertaining to class size and complexity, violence in the classroom, and actionable items that supported truth and reconciliation were put forward to the government. The Saskatchewan government refused to negotiate on nine of them.
Later in October, 90 per cent of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) members participated in a vote deciding job action against the government. 95 per cent of voting STF members backed job action. By December 2023, conciliation talks between STF and the Saskatchewan government had broken off.
“I want to be very clear that an obstinate and out-of-touch government is forcing this situation down an unfortunate path,” STF President Samantha Becotte said following the vote.
The full-day, comprehensive Saskatchewan teachers’ strike on January 16, 2024 was organized by the STF after the breaking off of talks between STF and the government. The January 16 strike marked the first day in over a decade, and the fourth time since 1973, that the people of Saskatchewan faced interruptions in schooling due to a breakdown of negotiations. Teachers previously went on strike for three days in 2011 after a sanctions vote, also under a Saskatchewan Party majority-led government.
The Saskatchewan government, which is primarily focused on wage negotiations, has tabled an offer that keeps wages below inflation levels for the next three years and maintains that the bargaining table is not the place to raise classroom concerns. The STF have not made their wage demands public and claims that wages are not the central issue, and that the central issue is the overall welfare of their students.
Today’s crisis has culminated after over a decade of history of unrest in the education sector of Saskatchewan. According to a January 16 article in the Conversation titled “Saskatchewan teacher strike: It’s about bargaining for the common good,” there has been a 10 per cent drop in per-student funding since 2012-13. In 2017, the Saskatchewan government announced a $22 million cut in public education funding while student enrolment increased around the same time.
These funding cuts have had impacts including a decline in classroom support. These ongoing issues had previously pushed the teachers to a collective bargaining dispute in 2019, however, their attempts were interrupted due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers’ morale has been in a crisis post-pandemic, and the government’s reluctance to reach an agreement with the STF has been less than helpful.
Speculations that the one-day strike would extend into a longer protest were confirmed in early February. Teachers in Saskatoon and in a number of northern school divisions walked off the job in the second round of rotating one-day strikes on February 7, 2024. According to CTV, approximately 4,300 teachers and 65,300 students were affected by the latest strike.
On February 5, the STF gave 48-hours notice of a one-day provincial withdrawal of supervision over the noon hour on Thursday, February 8. A statement from the Board of Education of the Regina School Division reads, “Without having an adequate number of supervisors, schools cannot safely have students in the building over the lunch hour.” Elementary students will be expected to leave at noon, while high school students will be dismissed at 1 p.m. after sitting through five 50-minute classes between 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m..
Schools are essential for a functioning society, and teachers are vital to their operation and success. Teachers, students, and Saskatchewan residents alike wait for the Saskatchewan government’s response to the STF’s labour action.