02/12/2015 03:52 EST | Updated 04/14/2015 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan teachers negotiate new contract with province; 7.5 per cent raise

REGINA - The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation has reached an agreement with the province that includes a 7.5 per cent raise over four years.

Teachers had been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2013.

The union, which represents 13,000 teachers, applied for conciliation after its members rejected two offers.

Andrew Sims, chair of the conciliation board, said Thursday's resolution followed a "particularly difficult dispute."

"We urged the parties to accept — and to accept right away — the recommendations we made," said Sims, who added that the board has no power to force a binding agreement. "They entered into voluntarily a collective agreement."

In June, 63 per cent of teachers voted against an agreement that offered a 7.3 per cent raise over four years.

The new contract won't go to a vote and takes effect immediately.

"The economy is very volatile and has changed drastically in the five months we've been working with the parties," Sims said.

Last week, Premier Brad Wall said he and his cabinet ministers are taking a wage freeze to help address revenue challenges brought about by slumping oil prices.

Wall has said low world oil prices mean Saskatchewan will face a budget shortfall of between $600 million and $800 million this year.

The new contract with teachers also includes a 0.25 per cent increase in government contribution rates to their pension plan, starting July 1, 2016.

The raises will be retroactive to Sept. 1, 2013. Teachers, including those no longer employed, will get a 1.85 per cent bump for the first year and 1.9 per cent for each year after.

Randy Cline, vice-president of the teachers' federation, said the economy played a role in pushing for a deal.

"We've had a number of pronouncements in the last few days about potential wage freezes in the public sector," he said. "(The conciliation board) urged us to act now because they saw it as a window of opportunity.

"We felt this was the best agreement we could achieve at this point in time."

In the settlement, the Ministry of Education promises to cover professional fees for teachers and school boards for two years related to a new regulatory body.

In December, Education Minister Don Morgan introduced legislation to create the self-regulating disciplinary system. It is to take over some of the processes currently managed by organizations, including the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation.

The move follows concerns that current legislation is too complex, inefficient and not transparent.