SIAST on strike


Students victims of strike

Julia McKenzie

While University of Regina students recently retuned to campus for another year, SIAST students were greeted differently. They got to school only to see their teachers on strike and were met by picket-carrying professionals represented by the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU).

In total, a combination of over 2,000 educators and associated professionals – all members of SGEU – walked out due to a believed insufficient wage increase of 5.5 per cent over three years. This increase is significantly less than what employees in other post-secondary institutions are earning. 

“Without fair and reasonable wage and benefits packages, it makes it difficult to retain current employees or recruit others,” said Bob Bymoen, SGEU president. “These offers are unfair and unacceptable to our members, who are worth more.”

After over 40 bargaining sessions, the two parties met with a mediator over the Labour Day Weekend to begin negotiations. They were unsuccessful and progress was stalled.

SIAST defended the offer it put forward by stating the wage increase was competitive to other negotiations recently reached by SGEU. SIAST was displeased with picketing continuing, believing it was seriously delaying any agreements and consequently SGEU considered this to be “a bizarre view of the mediation process.”

Jim Steele, chairperson of SGEU's SIAST academic negotiating committee, stated, “Mediation and conciliation commonly occur while unions are on strike. That is often the way labour disputes get resolved.” 

Tracey Kurtenbach, a SGEU education sector employee, claimed “SIAST management is using the job action as an excuse to prolong the contract dispute.”

Trash talking continued even further by Bymoen, when he stated, “SIAST management has continued to throw up roadblocks and create artificial barriers to avoid talking about the real issues plaguing SIAST.”

Students were advised to keep up on readings and assignments previously handed out, but missed out on crucial learning opportunities like lab work and lectures.

First-year nursing student Melany Wilde expressed a wide-held concern.

“In a program like practical nursing, every minute counts,” she said. “Missing lab time worries me, because it is a time when we get to do the hands on things and those are the most important.”

The situation looked brighter as the weekend passed, after SGEU signed the mediation agreement drafted by Tom Hodges.  Students were instructed to attend classes as usual on Monday.

Both parties appeared committed to meeting an agreement. Job action was put on pause to focus on mediation, with a solution hopefully on the horizon.

Information regarding how lost class time will be made up with possible solutions, including extended class hours or an altered academic year, should be released as soon as SIAST knows how much time altogether was lost.

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