Contract talks between Sask. teachers and province going public

The Saskatchewan public will be watching negotiations unfold between the province and the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation like never before, as both sides will be publicizing the bargaining process. 

Usually, talks between the two parties are kept confidential until an agreement has been reached. But in May, the 13,500-member union for teachers said it would make the negotiations public, in hopes of putting pressure on the government to bring forward fair proposals.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Gordon Wyant said the Government Trustee Bargaining Committee, made up of the province and school boards, will also be publicizing its offer to the union.

"We think it's fair that the public understands what the government's position is when it comes to bargaining," said Wyant.

"They're aware of what the teachers' position is when it comes to bargaining. This is kind of new, uncharted territory for us really."

Chanss Lagaden/CBC

In its offer, the bargaining committee put forward a three-year deal that would see teachers get a one-time, $1,500 payment per full-time teacher in 2019-20 and an annual two per cent salary increase over the next two years.

The union is asking for smaller class sizes, a three-year agreement with a two per cent salary increase in 2019-20, increases of three per cent in 2020-21 and three per cent in 2021-22, and a contract of employment for substitute teachers.

Wyant said while his government and the school boards feel the deal is fair and respectful to teachers, it doesn't include any compromise or change to class size, which is a major issue for the union.

"What's most interesting from the government's proposals is what's not there, and that would be any provisions around class size and class composition," said Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze.

"That's kind of a starting point for us, to get those provisions into some form of an agreement and start having a say in what our classrooms look like, and have a say over the learning conditions of our students."

Bryan Eneas/CBC

Wyant told reporters at a press conference the issue of class sizes is something that needs to be discussed at the school level, but said it is something the provincial government is interested in examining. 

"That's not something that can be bargained provincially," he said.

"But that's not to say we can't have a conversation about what is in the best interest of teachers and classroom students when it comes to composition."

However, Maze said he's not sure where the minister is getting that information, as he said it's the parties at the table that get to determine what issues will be discussed and addressed during negotiations.

Public bargaining unusual

The move to publicize bargaining is unusual, said Shelagh Campbell, an associate professor at the University of Regina who studies labour relations and business ethics. 

She said these types of talks usually take place behind closed doors as collective bargaining is quite complex, going far beyond the final dollar figures. 

Robert Short/CBC

It may also limit those at the table from straying too far from their initial offers, Campbell said, since parties who may be trying to come up with a creative way to reach an agreement could be seen by the public as losing face.

"This sort of publicity can have what we call a chilling effect," she said. "It can hinder the parties at the table in their ability to make meaningful progress in negotiations and to reach a meaningful agreement." 

She said that generally, a sense that parties aren't in meaningful negotiations can result in a stalemate "much more quickly," which could result in job action or the introduction of a mediator.

Campbell noted that even if an agreement is released, public negotiations could have a lasting effect. 

"It certainly can damage the bargaining relationship, and the relationship after the collective agreement is settled, if the parties sense that they are not bargaining in good faith together." 

Negotiations between the Teachers' Federation and the bargaining committee are set to continue on Wednesday.