Sue Harding, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association, says they are very happy with the newly ratified collective agreement during a photo session in Whitehorse on Jan. 17. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon teachers ratify new collective agreement

The agreement was ratified this week

The new collective agreement ratified this week with Yukon teachers will help the territory be a place for educators to work and stay, according to the president of the teachers’ association.

There will be salary increases, but also safeguards to stave off discrimination. Permanent positions will be more attainable.

“It puts in place assurances that new educators in the Yukon can go through a certain pathway to become permanent, they know the processes involved in evaluations and going through probation,” said Sue Harding, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA), which struck the three-year agreement with the Yukon government.

“That just ensures that they’re likely to stay longer, and when teachers stay longer, student outcomes improve.”

Eighty-five per cent of the YTA’s 900 members are in favour of the agreement, she added.

“That’s a pretty strong message that our members were happy with what we negotiated,” Harding said.

There are salary raises for education assistants and tutors by 3.2 per cent and increased allowances for educators working in remote areas.

Teachers will see a salary increase of 6.7 per cent for a total of $4.7 million over the three-year timeframe, said Nigel Allan, spokesperson with the Public Service Commission.

“That’s not the total increasing cost for government. Some of this increase is going to come from savings that are related to ending severance pay accruals for resignation and retirement,” he said.

First Nations teachers will be given priority because of the high percentage of First Nations students in the Yukon school system, Harding said.

“They need to see themselves in the teachers that are teaching them and working with them in the school, so they, in turn, have the confidence to become whatever they want to become,” she said.

Discriminating against someone because of their gender identity or expression is prohibited under the new collective agreement.

“We respect them,” Harding said, “and understand we need to have them in our system.”

Asked if there’s ever been a case of someone being discriminated against because they don’t conform to gender norms, Harding said: “As far as I know, in my history, I’ve never heard of any sort of a case where someone was discriminated against or asked to leave the school because of how they identify. This simply gives protections … and is just doing the right thing.”

Temporary employees will be able to get permanent positions quicker now.

Before the agreement, these workers had to be on probation for two years, sometimes longer, and, if they chose to leave a school, that probationary period would reset, Harding said.

These employees can now gain permanent status within one year.

“It caused a lot of frustration among our members and certainly a lot of anxiety,” Harding said, noting that probationary periods in other Canadian jurisdictions are as short as three months.

“There wasn’t anywhere in Canada where you had to serve two year’s probation in order to become permanent,” she said. “It just modernizes our agreement a little better.”

It means, she continued, that the Yukon can have a more competitive edge during a time of nation-wide teacher shortages.

“We want to keep you and make you part of our communities and part of the Yukon,” Harding said.

There is more work to do, however.

Currently, substitute teachers, roughly 100 of them, aren’t YTA members.

But this is slated to change with legislative amendments.

“Moving forward, we’ll be able to negotiate a better economic package for them,” Harding said. “They’re the last teachers-on-call in Canada to be under an association. That’s really groundbreaking.”

The agreement took longer than anticipated (negotiations began in May) because of the complexity of certain issues, said Mike Woods, assistant deputy minister of the policy and partnerships branch at the Department of Education.

“Any time we can come to an agreement that both sides are happy with we can refocus our attention back on the students. That’s a really good thing for us,” he said.

There are 90 days to implement the agreement, Woods said, noting that ironing out hiring protocols and finalizing language are next.

“We’ll be working fast and furious.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

Correction: This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect that salary increases of teachers are over three years.

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