B.C. Premier Christy Clark has reaffirmed her commitment to reaching a 10-year contract with teachers, which they have already rejected, even after they voted in overwhelming numbers in favour of job action.
Teachers voted 89 per cent for job action on Thursday night to apply pressure to help contract talks.
Ms. Clark has said for more than a year that a long-term contract would bring stability to the education system. She campaigned on it in the 2013 election and included it in the mandate letter she gave Education Minister Peter Fassbender on his appointment last June.
“We do want to get to a 10-year agreement,” Ms. Clark told reporters in Port Moody on Friday during an unrelated event.
“I think a lot of classroom teachers want to get to a 10-year agreement too. I don’t think the men and women who are teaching in classrooms in British Columbia like labour disruption, like going on strike any more than parents or teachers or the government does. We all have a real interest in getting to a 10-year deal.”
However, she said she was not in a position to predict the outcome of talks under way Friday between the union and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, representing the government.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation quickly dubbed a 10-year deal a non-starter.
“B.C. teachers have repeatedly told government, from the very first time Christy Clark mentioned it, that a 10-year term is unreasonable and a distraction from meaningful negotiations,” federation president Jim Iker said in a statement issued hours after the Premier’s remarks.
“The sooner Premier Clark stops talking about a 10-year term, the sooner we’ll find common ground.”
Mr. Iker, who has described the job-action vote as a necessary pressure tactic in contract talks, has said any initial action would focus on administrative matters, and would not involve report cards, extracurricular activities, or dialogue with parents.
The teachers would not close schools, he told a news conference on Thursday night after the release of the results of the vote by 29,300 teachers.
“If, at some point, talks stall or government does not move on key areas, that initial job action could escalate into rotating strikes but, once again, it depends on developments at the negotiating table,” Mr. Iker said.
A walkout would require a further vote, Mr. Iker said. The last legal teachers’ strike was in March, 2012, and lasted three days.
Mr. Iker said the government had issued a “very insulting” wage proposal and was trying to ignore a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling that struck down legislation that removed class size and composition provisions from the teachers’ contract. The ruling by Justice Susan Griffin also suggested the government tried to provoke a teachers’ strike.
The government proposal included a 6.5-per-cent wage increase over the first six years.
On Friday, Mr. Fassbender told a media conference call the government was intent on continued talks, but was waiting for a comprehensive position from the teachers with detailed numbers. In March, the BCTF tabled proposals that asked for a cost-of-living adjustment and compensation adjustments to bring teachers in line with teachers elsewhere in Canada.