11/27/2015 11:58 EST | Updated 11/27/2015 12:59 EST

Alberta Bill Will Give Government More Say In Teacher Contract Negotiations

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — Alberta is bringing in legislation to ensure it has a seat at the bargaining table in the next round of contract talks with teachers.

The details are contained in a bill tabled Thursday in the legislature by Education Minister David Eggen.

"This bill will allow us to develop a two-table bargaining model that is fair and effective,'' Eggen told a news conference.

"It's critical ... that we work to ensure stable budgets that our partners in education can rely on.''

The bill calls for province wide issues such as teacher salaries to be negotiated between the government and school boards on one side and the Alberta Teachers' Association on the other.

Local issues — such as policies on sick days or remunerating travel expenses for substitute teachers — would be bargained at the local level.

The bill is expected to become law in January. The current four-year deal with teachers expires next Aug. 31.

Before formal bargaining begins, the teachers' association, the Alberta School Boards Association and the government are to meet to hammer out which issues will be bargained centrally and which would be handled at the local level.

An arbitrator is to make the final call if there's no agreement.

Without legislation, the process would returns to 61 separate sets of talks between school boards and association locals.

"It's critical ... that we work to ensure stable budgets that our partners in education can rely on.''

Alberta teachers are scheduled to make $4.2 billion this year in salaries, benefits and pension payments.

The teachers' association said it has been calling for this type of bargaining since 2002.

"Today, the government has committed to taking an active role in bargaining. It is vitally important that the funder be at the table,'' union president Mark Ramsankar said in a news release.

"The association will work with government and school boards to create an effective bargaining structure that will meet the needs of teachers, students and the public.''

The previous contract was worked out between the government and the teachers' association collectively in 2013. However, when one school board and two teacher locals refused to ratify the deal, the province was forced to bring in legislation to implement it.

Negotiations will come at a time when the government is under pressure to keep costs down. The provincial budget, which passed final reading Thursday, is forecast to run a $6.1-billion deficit, and the province will be borrowing billions more dollars next fiscal year to pay for programs, services and salaries.

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