B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender says he hopes that the tentative deal the ministry reached with school support staff on the weekend will set an example for negotiations between the province and its public school teachers.
"I saw five days of hard bargaining where CUPE represented their members very well, the employers' negotiators met with them, they stayed in that room, they bargained hard, and they came out with a result," Mr. Fassbender said on Monday.
"I believe we could do that with the [B.C. Teachers' Federation], but they have to be willing to come with some movement on their part that is more significant than what they've done so far."
While the Canadian Union of Public Employees does not represent all of the support workers in B.C.'s education system, its membership includes more than 27,000 employees – education assistants, secretaries, information technology workers, caretakers, First Nations support workers, bus drivers and maintenance staff and trades workers.
The two sides began contract negotiations on June 3 and were able to come to an agreement after five days of bargaining. Particulars of the agreement, which deals with financial aspects such as wages, will not be available until the day-to-day operational details are worked out by local units. The agreement will then need to be voted on by union members.
Negotiations between the B.C. Public School Employers' Association and the province's teachers have not gone as smoothly. Teachers have kicked off a third week of rotating strikes and will cast ballots on Monday and Tuesday to determine whether to escalate their job action to a complete work stoppage. If they do, that would probably mean that students will lose the last two weeks of classes.
The government has asked the B.C. Labour Relations Board to make all services that are required to complete Grade 10 to 12 report cards an essential service.
Mr. Fassbender said he is hoping that the board will expedite the hearing so that both sides can have some clarity about what will be required of teachers in the event of a full-scale strike.