As the government and teachers prepare for the next round of collective bargaining, the government is continuing to preach "fiscal restraint and discipline."
Political leaders and staff of the Alberta Teachers’ Association are considering next steps after an arbitrator ruled that teachers will not receive a salary increase as part of a central collective agreement reached last year.
“This decision just kicks the can down the road,” said ATA president Jason Schilling. “Teachers will seek to correct this situation in the next round of collective bargaining.”
News of the arbitration decision surfaced late on the afternoon of Jan. 10. It was the last step in a new agreement covering the term from Sept. 1, 2018 to Aug. 31, 2020. Negotiations for a new agreement will begin in March.
“The stakes are going to be higher than ever,” Schilling said.
The ATA had been seeking a three per cent increase whereas the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association, which comprises government and school board representatives, was seeking to decrease the salary grid by two per cent. Maintaining the status quo means teachers have received no pay increases in seven of the last eight years.
|Recent history of teacher salary increases
“Frankly, Alberta teachers are tired of having to pay for the continuing failure of successive governments to adequately fund public education,” Schilling said.
In his ruling, arbitrator David Jones concluded that there was no justification for adjusting the grid in either direction.
“It would not be in the public interest or acceptable to the general community for teachers to receive a salary increase, given the economic circumstances which currently prevail in the province, including the high unemployment rate, the absence of any comparable collective agreement settlements containing salary increases, and the nonmonetary provisions which the teachers have obtained in the current collective agreement,” he wrote.
He added that it’s the government’s responsibility to find the balance between cost and well-staffed public institutions.
“I note that the parties will very shortly be embarking on negotiating the next collective agreement, during which they can test whether it would be appropriate to put in place any different result.”
Fiscal restraint ahead
The arbitrator’s decision mirrored the outcome handed down to Alberta’s nurses. In a released statement, Finance Minister Travis Toews concluded that the “outcomes reflect the current economic realities in the province.”
“Correcting wages over time is a critical part of our government’s commitment to get our fiscal house in order. Even with these decisions, fiscal restraint and discipline must continue as we enter into new collective bargaining negotiations in 2020,” he said.
“As we said at Budget 2019, there is no new money for public sector raises in the fiscal plan.
“We have a great deal of respect and admiration for Alberta’s public sector workers. The need for wage restraint does not diminish our recognition for the hard work they do for Albertans.”
For his part, Schilling was adamant that “teachers deserved better.”
“It is difficult for me to describe how absolutely frustrated and deeply disappointed I am in this decision.”
He said the Association advanced a strong argument in arbitration and he was confident that a modest and reasonable salary increase was possible.
“Unfortunately, the arbitrator largely ignored the recent history of salary restraint in teacher collective agreements and chose to focus on the state of the Alberta economy,” Schilling said. “I look forward to talking with you more about your reactions and the next steps to ensure that teachers in this province are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.” ❚