Feature

Cross-Country Check-Up: An Overview of Changes and Challenges in Education

Vivian McCaffrey

Under a Progressive Conservative government and before the oil crisis, Alberta teachers were subjected to a four-year collective agreement that included a salary freeze for the first three years followed by a two percent increase in the fourth year plus a one percent lumpsum payment. That agreement expires in August. Time will tell whether Alberta teachers fare better under the NDP government. In November, Alberta introduced legislation modelled after Ontario’s education sector bargaining legislation, establishing two-tiered bargaining. In December, in response to lobbying by the school boards’ association, the bill was amended to give trustees a say in determining what would be negotiated at the central table. The trustees may have used the Ontario legislation to support their case. In April, Alberta presented a budget that included salary freezes for MPPs and executive officers in the public service and government funded agencies, a potential harbinger of future public sector bargaining constraints.

Elsewhere in Canada, teachers have mobilized against unacceptable management demands. During fall 2015, Quebec teacher unions participated in strike action that involved a province wide one-day walkout and a series of rotating one-day strikes in the face of government demands for a salary freeze for two years and a one percent increase in each of the following three years. Other demands included larger class sizes, elimination of more than 800 resource teachers and pension changes. Following the strike action, the Quebec unions achieved a settlement that included a 5.25 percent increase over five years plus a 2.5 percent improvement to their salary grid effective 2019. The government backed off its demands to increase class sizes and cut resource teachers. The unions, in fact, achieved lower class sizes for pre-school and Kindergarten programs, which will now range between 14 and 17 students. The teachers, along with other public sector unions, did concede to increasing their retirement age from 60 to 61.

Perhaps in response to union activism and parent protests, the Quebec 2016 budget announced a three percent increase to its education spending for 2016–17 and the following two years, not enough to address shortfalls identified by the unions but at least above inflation and more than the previous year’s 0.2 percent increase.

Negative reaction to concession bargaining is growing among teacher unions. In November, Nova Scotia teachers voted down a tentative agreement that offered a two year wage freeze followed by a one percent increase in the third year. Members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Association (STA) walked off the job for the first time in history in 2012 in response to an unacceptable contract offer. In their next round, STA members voted twice against tentative agreements before a settlement was achieved through a fraught arbitration process.

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