Yukon teachers expecting to hammer out a new labour contract before school lets out for the summer will have to wait.
Last week, the Yukon Teachers’ Association was set to wrap up bargaining for a new collective agreement, but the negotiator representing the Yukon territory backed out at the last minute.
“Our negotiator had an emergency that he had to attend to,” said Megan Slobodin, the Yukon’s director of staff relations.
Negotiations were supposed to take place on May 25 and 26, but representatives from the Yukon Teachers’ Association bargaining team received a phone call saying the negotiator, who works for a law firm in Vancouver, couldn’t make the meeting.
“They (the Yukon Teachers’ Association) said they were relieved,” said Slobodin.
“May is too close to the end of the school year to have done bargaining anyway. They said they wouldn’t want to do it at that time again.”
The bargaining team was ready to move ahead with negotiations last week, said Katherine Mackwood, chair of the Yukon Teachers’ Association negotiating committee and the association’s incoming president.
“We weren’t relieved,” said Mackwood. “We were prepared to negotiate.”
The existing collective agreement expires June 30. After that, teachers will be working without a contract.
The Yukon government and the teachers’ association will meet in mid-September to finalize the agreement.
The existing contract will remain in place until the new one is settled, said Jim Tredger, outgoing president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association.
With teachers away for summer break, negotiations couldn’t be rescheduled, said Tredger.
“It shouldn’t have too much of an impact,” said Tredger. “But everyone would like to have a new contract; not having that contract leads to uncertainty.”
Salaries, benefits and learning and working conditions are some of the outstanding issues the Yukon Teachers’ Association is looking to pin down in the new contract.
Teachers are seeking a 4.5 per cent pay increase for each of the next two years as well as a simplified administration of their personal leave days.
They’re also seeking to clarify how classes are composed according to the special needs of some students.
Slobodin wouldn’t comment on how the delay will affect classes or teachers’ pay in consideration of the agreement not being hammered out until after school starts in September.
“All pay is subject to bargaining,” said Slobodin, who explained that any and all of these sorts of conditions will be sorted out during negotiations.
This isn’t the first time the government negotiator hasn’t shown up at a bargaining meeting, according to Tredger.
Unlike the Teachers’ Association, the Yukon government opts to use Outside negotiators.
“Bargaining is a specialized field,” said Slobodin. “We don’t do it enough to warrant having our own negotiators. It’s easier in a lot of ways to have Outside people.”
But Tredger isn’t sure why the government brings people from Outside.
“I would think it takes a while for these negotiators to get up to speed on the issues and to know what’s unique to the Yukon in terms of education and our teachers,” said Tredger.
As disappointing as the delay was to some teachers, Tredger says he’d like to focus on what is beneficial for students rather than rush the negotiations through.
“It was unfortunate that negotiations were unable to be completed, but it’s just something we’ll have to work with.”
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