The B.C. Teachers’ Federation will continue its strike action into next week after the two sides failed to hammer out a deal following three days of negotiations.
But as the teachers increased the pressure by declaring that students will be out of classes for another day on a rotating basis next Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, the Education Minister attempted to entice them back to the bargaining table with a suggestion of further concessions.
The strike action was announced even before negotiators for the government and the union had finished their bargaining for the day. Negotiators had been meeting since Monday.
BCTF president Jim Iker said the government needs to be more flexible and willing to compromise on the issues of wages and and class sizes.
“Teachers know that bargaining is about compromise, but we cannot be the only ones expected to move,” Mr. Iker said in a statement. “Collective bargaining is about compromise and moving forwards, not backwards.”
Mr. Iker called on Premier Christy Clark to “free up the resources that will bring the two sides closer together.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he was disappointed that students and parents “will continue to be held hostage” by the dispute, but he said he does not intend to use legislation to end it. “We are not going to run to legislation because the pattern we have seen in the past is exactly that,” he told reporters in Victoria.
“We need to break that cycle of dysfunction when it comes to bargaining with the BCTF and the only way to do that is for both of us to be at the table, willing to bargain.”
Mr. Fassbender called on the BCTF to refrain from job action.
“If they were to back off and get back to the bargaining table and allow students and parents to live a normal life without disruptions, then we would take all the other things off the table … and be prepared to hear what they would like to bring to the table,” he said. “It has to be a two-way street.”
The teachers began four days of rotating walkouts this week in an effort to back their demands for higher wages as well as a return to class size and composition limits that were stripped from contracts by the Liberal government in 2002. Two court rulings have ordered the government to restore those contract provisions, though the government has said that would cost taxpayers $2-billion. It is appealing the ruling, but that won’t be heard until the fall.
Meanwhile, a small group of concerned parents met with Education Minister Peter Fassbender in Victoria on Wednesday in the hopes of changing the tone of the bitter labour dispute.
Ramona Chu, a Coquitlam mother of three, has been a parent volunteer in the school system for 17 years. She blames both sides in the labour dispute for the deadlock at the bargaining table. Ms. Chu called on the government to show leadership and to find ways to save money without reducing such services as speech pathology, music and libraries.
“It’s a fight between the government and the BCTF, and they have both lost sight of the kids,” she said.
Both sides will be at the B.C. Labour Relations Board on Thursday for a ruling on whether the government is allowed to cut teachers’ wages by 10 per cent due to their lighter workloads during the job action.
Ms. Clark said Tuesday she’s hoping the hearing will trigger a conclusion to the dispute within 48 hours.
Teachers are asking for a 13.7-per-cent pay raise over four years. The government has responded with an offer of 7.3 per cent over six years and a partial lockout that prevents teachers from being at work more than 45 minutes before class starts and 45 minutes after it ends.