Ending a strike that threatens to delay next week’s launch of the British Columbia school year now hinges on talks under way in a pair of hotel meeting rooms in this city south of Vancouver.
On Friday, members of the B.C. teachers union gathered in one room. A bargaining committee from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association was in the other, just down the hall.
What’s linking the two is veteran mediator Vince Ready, who joined the parties in a bid to bridge the gap behind a three-month-old strike by 40,000 teachers across the province. After rotating walkouts, teachers went on full strike on June 17.
(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)
“What we’re hoping for is we can wrap this up in the next four days so our teachers and our students can be back in school next week,” B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker told reporters as he arrived at the hotel.
But he declined comment on the details of the talks.
“We know we need government to show some flexibility,” he said. “I’m hopeful.”
He said there could be some marathon bargaining ahead to try and get an agreement in time for the scheduled launch of the school year on Tuesday.
Friday’s meeting came after Mr. Ready met with the parties for three hours Thursday then emerged to say he was calling both back for further discussions, and asking them to bring proposals and their negotiating teams for ending the dispute.
Issues have included wages, class size and class composition.
Mr. Ready and Peter Cameron, the lead negotiator for the government, declined comment on arrival at the hotel.
Mr. Cameron would say only that there are seven members on his bargaining team. He has said Friday’s meeting would be “exploratory.”
Mr. Ready had not previously committed to formal mediation, but only to exploratory talks to see whether both sides were close enough for him to engineer a deal.
Earlier, the Vancouver School Board said it will reopen schools if a deal is reached by early Monday evening. Otherwise schools will remain closed.