"We think it's a really good offer."
Those are the words of Hanover School Board Trustee Danielle Funk, who chairs the Negotiating Committee. Funk is referring to the division's offer to Educational Assistants (EAs) who walked off the job Wednesday morning.
According to the division, since March of this year, there have been numerous bargaining sessions between Hanover and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). During bargaining, the division says it agreed to many proposals which benefit EAs, including enhancements to sick leave, family leave and bereavement leave.
However, Funk says the sticking point has been wages. On October 24th, the two sides engaged in conciliation with a conciliator to attempt to reduce the gap, however, the division says the parties remain apart on the aspect of annual wage increases.
On Tuesday of this week, the division presented an offer. That offer includes an 8.8 per cent increase to starting wages and a 6.5 per cent increase to the top of the wage scale. The division says its offer to increase the starting and top wage was to address concerns that Hanover's wage rates are lower than other rural school divisions.
The division also offered the following:
- September 1, 2022 - 3.3 per cent general increase
- September 1, 2023 - 3.0 per cent general increase
- September 1, 2024 - 2.25 per cent general increase
- September 1, 2025 - 2.25 per cent general increase
The division says it also offered a five per cent increase on the Educational Premium for each of the four years.
According to the division, the total value of these wage increases provides an overall increase of 13 per cent over the four-year term, with an average annual increase of 3.25 per cent. The division says this offer represents the largest offer over the term of a collective agreement in recent history between the two parties. Since 2006, the average annual wage increase has been 2.14 per cent.
Hanover says this offer is consistent with the wage increases received by all other employee groups, including senior administration, within the division during similar time frames, as well as other education sector and public sector settlements.
The division says it received the following proposal by CLAC on Tuesday:
- September 1, 2022 - 5.0 per cent general increase
- September 1, 2023 - 2.5 per cent general increase
- September 1, 2024 - 10 per cent general increase ($2.00 per hour on all wage rates)
- September 1, 2025 - 2.25 per cent general increase
Hanover says the overall increase proposed by CLAC is greater than 20 per cent over the four-year term, representing an average annual increase of 5.17 per cent. The division says this type of wage increase is unprecedented in Hanover across all employee groups.
"The division's offer would increase our EAs' wages to be close to the range of other divisions," Funk points out. "To be competitive and a fair comparison with them."
She says in all employee groups, Hanover's wages are a little lower than other divisions. This, she says, is because of the level of funding that has been coming from the province over the last few years.
"We are not able to pay everybody because we get less funding for our students," she adds.
The division says that it was required to make significant financial reductions in the 2023/24 school year in order to achieve a balanced budget and does not have the ability to increase labour costs by 10 per cent in one year for any employee group. It says labour costs account for 83 per cent of the division's entire budget. The division notes that the proposals exchanged will already result in a shortfall due to the retroactive application of the wages.
The division says it appreciates the outpouring of support from parents and members of the community who have offered their assistance. Funk says they are using the resources they have to keep their services running as close to normal as possible. She notes some parents have volunteered to cover some supervision gaps but says the needs of each school are different and therefore the roles needed from volunteers and staff are not the same from one school to the next. Funk adds they are using individuals who typically do other jobs, to cover some of the holes that exist.
Funk stresses that the division is not saying that EAs do not deserve a wage increase.
"We are saying this is what we are able to offer you," she says. "We do have an offer out to our EAs, and we think it's a really good offer. It's just, it hasn't been accepted at the negotiation table."
As of late in the day Wednesday, Funk says the two sides have not set a date for returning to the bargaining table. However, she says the offer presented by the division remains open for acceptance until November 15th.
Funk refers to their negotiation meetings as being calm, noting the two sides have been able to make a lot of progress.
Meanwhile, Funk says that as long as they keep negotiating, there is always optimism that things can be settled. She notes they are open to continue negotiating and meeting at the table.
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