Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saskatchewan teachers stage walkout, rally in Regina

Photograph by: Don Healy, Leader-Post

REGINA — With her 10-year-old daughter out of school, Jasmin Paliogeorgos decided to take her two children down to Wascana Lake to enjoy Thursday's weather.

"We're out getting some fresh air and feeding the ducks, trying to spend our time," Paliogeorgos, whose younger child isn't school-aged yet, said, noting her family wasn't inconvenienced by Thursday's teacher walkout.

"My husband and I share positions at our jobs, so we never have a babysitter or anything like that," she said. "So I wasn't inconvenienced, but I can understand how some families were."

Thousands of teachers from Regina and area rallied at the Saskatchewan legislative building on Thursday morning as part of the first-ever, province-wide, one-day teacher walkout.

"We really want to cause as little disruption as possible, but it's an important statement we're making and we want to make sure that the government hears it," Steven Allen, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, told reporters.

"The statement is, 'Look, we're serious. We need to negotiate. We need to get back to the table.' And that's what we're trying to say."

Some teachers at the rally cheered loudly during speeches from union leaders and NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter. Many carried signs bearing the phrases "invest in teachers", "for our future", "for our students" and "for our province".

Bargaining has been going on for almost a year. Teachers have been without a contract since the end of August. In a province-wide vote on April 13, Saskatchewan teachers voted 95 per cent in support for sanctions.

The government is offering an increase of 5.5 per cent over three years. But the STF has asked for a 12-per-cent increase in one year.

"Is 12 per cent set in stone? No, it's not," Allen said. "That's what negotiating is about. But we don't want to start low and have to work our way up. We're looking at job action to get us back to the negotiating table. That's been our message throughout all of this.

"We want real negotiations. We don't want somebody coming in with a set agenda saying, 'This is the maximum,' or, 'This is where we're at.' We know what teachers want; teachers have told us all the way through it. Don't bring us an offer we're going to reject," he added.
Allen said he feels the public has been supportive of the teachers and their efforts.
"The message for students that I would have, I would think, is 'hang in there,' " he continued. "We're there for you. This isn't about taking away opportunities for students at all. This is about giving opportunities to teachers."

Individual teachers at the rally declined to comment to the media, but many stayed for question period at the legislature, filling the public gallery.

Though Allen said the union's numbers differ from the government's, during question period, Premier Brad Wall said that Saskatchewan teachers would be the second highest-paid in the western provinces if they accept the current offer, trailing only Alberta, And a lucrative contract signed in that province now has teachers facing layoffs, Wall said.

"The Alberta situation is instructive and important for us here because we want to avoid a settlement where our school boards would have to, because of budgetary constraints caused by a settlement, potentially look at layoffs," said Wall, who encouraged the parties to return to negotiations.

"We understand the teachers' position with respect to the offer that has been tendered by the government-trustee committee. I think they also understand the committee's position that 12 per cent in one year is also not acceptable and so the solution is at the bargaining table," Wall said.

Lingenfelter accused the premier of making a "threat" about layoffs instead of listening to teachers.
"That's shameful because there is nowhere else in the world, in Canada, where there's more money than in Saskatchewan. If you look at the revenue to the province, it's higher than ever before, and if there isn't enough, go to the potash corporations and take a little bit more and pay our teachers properly," said Lingenfelter, who has been lobbying the government to review the level of royalties paid by potash companies that mine in the province.

He said teachers and other employees who do the "heavy lifting" are seeing the economy grow but aren't benefiting from that success.

Lingenfelter later told reporters that he wouldn't prescribe the appropriate wage increase, but said it should amount to more than 5.5 per cent over three years.

"I'm not arguing 12 per cent. I'm saying it should be more than two per cent [a year]," Lingenfelter said.

Education Minister Donna Harpauer said the current offer isn't classified as a "final" offer, but it is "firm."
"We want to ensure that the offer is fair and we believe that second highest in Western Canada, higher than the Canadian average, is a fair offer," Harpauer said.

No comments:

Post a Comment