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Minister says Saskatchewan teachers and union need to work out contract demands

Don Morgan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General for the province of Saskatchewan (now Education Minister), left, and Ministry of Justice Civil Law Director Gerald Tegart address media.

GEOFF HOWE/The Canadian Press

Education Minister Don Morgan says the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and its members need to get on the same page for contract demands.

Morgan says it's troubling that teachers have rejected a second offer that their union negotiated with the government.

"My own opinion at the present time, is I think they've got some work to do between themselves and their own membership," Morgan said Tuesday.

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"And probably they need to spend a bit of time just to sit down, work through what the process should be for themselves, so that they know when a contract gets entered into on a tentative basis that it's likely going to be ratified."

The proposed agreement included a wage increase of 7.3 per cent over four years, but 63 per cent of more than 13,000 teachers voted against it.

Federation president Colin Keess said Monday the deal was the best that could be reached at the bargaining table and the union is concerned that it wasn't acceptable to teachers.

The federation said it will apply for conciliation.

Connie Bailey, a spokeswoman for the government bargaining committee, has said the offer was comparable to terms in other public sector agreements and would have kept Saskatchewan teachers competitive with other teachers in Western Canada.

Morgan said some of the things that concern teachers can't be included in a contract, such as class size, curriculum and respect, but he hopes those issues can be worked out separately.

"Whether it's possible to address those over the summer months or not, I don't know. What we'd really like to do is get an agreement in place, so that funds can flow to teachers and we put the financial aspects behind. Then we move on with the other issues."

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Saskatchewan teachers have been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2013.

Teachers across British Columbia set up picket lines Tuesday in their contract dispute with the province. The full-scale strike affects more than 40,000 teachers and about half a million students. Wages, class size, support for students and hiring of specialist teachers remain key issues.

Morgan said there doesn't appear to be an "appetite for job action" in Saskatchewan. But he also said teachers seem to be frustrated across Canada.

"When you talk to parents, when you talk to students, they respect (and) value the teachers. When you talk to the teachers, they feel undervalued," he said.

"We probably need to reach out to teachers and let them know that we do appreciate, we do value the work that they do, and try and work with them to try and address some of the concerns that are in their workplace."

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