B.C. Premier Christy Clark is pinning her hopes on a Labour Relations Board hearing this week for a breakthrough in the increasingly bitter dispute with the province’s 41,000 teachers that saw a second day of rotating walkouts Tuesday.
The LRB will convene on Thursday to hear the government’s proposal for cutting teachers’ wages by 10 per cent in response to the strike action. Ms. Clark said Tuesday she’s hoping the meeting will help settle the dispute between the two sides within 48 hours. Teachers are staging four days of rotating strikes this week and the government has imposed a partial lockout.
“Children are being put in the middle of this thing, and it’s not right,” she said. “It’s not fair for families and children to pay the price of a labour dispute between adults. We need to sit down, negotiate hard, come to the table with new and imaginative ideas and find a solution.”
Meanwhile, negotiations between both sides continued for a second day Tuesday and were expected to stretch into Wednesday.
Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said negotiations are respectful but the two sides remain far apart on key issues such as classroom sizes and wages.
Teachers are asking for a 13.7-per-cent pay raise over four years, while the government is offering 7.3 per cent over six years. The union also wants the government to follow a court-ordered return to 2002 levels for class sizes and staffing. The Liberals say that would cost taxpayers $2-billion and the government is appealing the court decision.
Mr. Iker said teachers will decide Wednesday whether to continue their job action next week, depending on progress at the bargaining table.
“As long as we continue talking that’s always hopeful but we’re still apart, and what we need is a willingness on the part of government to bring the necessary funding to the bargaining table,” Mr. Iker told reporters gathered at Matthew McNair Secondary School in Richmond.
Mr. Iker said the BCTF wants to give parents enough time to make child-care arrangements if needed. “We’re trying to have the least impact on our parents with our action,” he said.
As more than a dozen teachers picketed at the Richmond school Tuesday, many cars driving past sounded their horns in a show of support. One person dropped off a box of Timbits.
The teachers were also joined by a handful of locked-out Ikea workers from the Teamsters local 213, as well as CUPE members representing support staff at the school.
On Monday, BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said that if the government tries to legislate teachers back to work, “they’re going to be dealing with the entire labour movement.”
Mr. Iker said the BCTF has strong support from the labour movement in B.C. and across Canada, but he wouldn’t say what that involves.
“Labour will be there to support teachers if there is legislation,” he said. “But we’re hoping that government does not bail itself out again by legislating us. It’s time that this government actually comes to the table with the necessary funding to get a fair deal for teachers and better supports for students.”
Ms. Clark said the bargaining system is broken, which is why several governments have had to legislate teachers back to work since 1996, with only one exception that didn’t involve legislation.
“Once we have settled this agreement, I want to sit down with the teachers union and jointly recognize that the system is broken,” she said. “We’ve got to fix it. That is what’s going to get us to 10 years of labour peace.”
Although teachers claim that B.C.’s education system is severely underfunded, Vancouver parent Ron Tines says he’s happy with what his two daughters, ages 8 and 9, are learning at school.
“It doesn’t appear direly in need of funding to me,” Mr. Tines said.