Mediator Vince Ready has walked away from talks aimed at resolving the British Columbia teachers' strike, saying the parties are too far apart to reach a deal.
Mr. Ready' s exit, announced Saturday after two days of meetings by bargaining committees for both sides, all but ensures that the school year will not resume as scheduled this Tuesday. It’s a development set to cause troubles for thousands of B.C. parents who had hoped there could be an imminent deal.
(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)
The province’s 40,000 public-school teachers went on strike out in mid -June after weeks of rotating walkouts.
Both sides had hoped Mr. Ready, the province's most prominent labour mediator, could bridge the gap that led to the strike.
“What happened is Vince decided the parties were too far apart for mediation to be productive at this point,” Peter Cameron, the chief negotiator of the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association, said in an interview on Saturday evening.
“He is walking away, but keeping in touch with the parties.”
Mr. Cameron said that for now, there were no further meetings scheduled with the B.C. Teachers Federation and that he would be “amazed” if there was some development that saw the parties returning to the hotel in Richmond, south of Vancouver, where talks had been underway.
“I am disappointed and frustrated. We hoped we were here to make real progress,” he said.
Mr. Cameron said the union had to move off the idea of getting more in wages and benefits, suggesting they were seeking $125-million more in benefits than other unions had settled for and that a $5,000 settlement bonus was a “non starter.”
“They’ve got a very expensive set of proposals,” he said.
In a statement to teachers, the president of the BCTF said the strike will continue, but union negotiators are still determined to get a deal before classes are supposed to resume.
Jim Iker did not explain how that would happen with talks currently at an impasse.
Mr. Iker said the union's negotiators tried to “kick start meaningful talks” by dropping some proposals and reducing others “substantially” for a $125-million reduction in the cost of their package.
“Unfortunately, the government did not indicate they were willing to make any meaningful moves in return.”
Mr. Iker said government proposals would bargain away gains secured through a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling that illegal legislation introduced in 2002 stripped teachers of the ability to bargain class size and composition. The government is appealing the ruling.
He also said there was no movement on salary, or commitment to increase funding to support student learning needs.
He encouraged teachers to contact their members of the legislature and press the government on the issues.
B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he was disappointed at the breakdown in talks and saw no “quick or easy” solutions to resolve the situation.
“The BCTF leadership has stubbornly refused every effort to reach a fair deal,” he said in a statement issued Saturday night.
He suggested the union is counting on a legislated end to the strike to avoid a “difficult” conversation with members. The government has said it won’t legislate an end to the strike.
“Legislating an end to the dispute is the wrong thing to do. It would only keep us on the same dysfunctional treadmill that we've been on for the past 30 years,” the statement said. “As hard as it is, we have to stand firm and hope the union leadership comes around to getting serious about negotiating a fair agreement.”