Despite plans for rotating strikes and the partial lockout of B.C.'s 41,000 teachers, a law professor who has spent years studying the dysfunctional relationship between the teachers and the province says he expects a deal will be reached soon.
Over 20 years of negotiations, only one contract has been reached with teachers without legislation. Despite the conflict-ridden history, Kenneth Thornicroft of the University of Victoria says the government is taking a rare hard-line approach.
"I don't ever recall a provincial government in B.C. locking out their employees, this is a soft lockout, but it has created a lot of angst and heat," Prof. Thornicroft said. "Clearly the province is being more pro-active in this dispute and won't let the BCTF use economic weapons."
Still, provincial negotiators have offered teachers a $1,200 signing bonus if they accept a deal before the end of June. In the run-up to the 2010 Olympics, teachers accepted what they deemed an imperfect deal accompanied by a $3,700 signing bonus.
Prof. Thornicroft said that, if presented with a "sweetened offer," teachers could likely decide to accept in a close vote.
One-quarter of B.C.'s schools will be closed on Monday as a four-day partial strike rotates across the province's school boards. From the first day of the rotating strikes, teachers have been told by government negotiators that they will be forbidden from doing much work outside the classroom due to a partial lockout. As a result of the reduced workload, wages will be cut by 10 per cent.
During negotiations, the teachers have made repeated reference to a January court decision which ruled that the Liberal government's removal of some rights held by the teachers in 2002 was unconstitutional. Prof. Thornicroft says the roots of the current animosity go back to 2012, when the teachers accepted a two-year austerity contract, confident they could seek a large wage increase from a New Democrat majority expected the next year. The NDP lost that election, and with it the teachers lost their partner in Victoria.
"I just don't feel like there is a groundswell of support for the BCTF to secure a package well and above what other public workers have received," Prof. Thornicroft said.
Earlier this week, Premier Christy Clark called a Vancouver-based morning radio show and ruled out a large salary increase for teachers. "You have to be fair. If you look across public-sector workers, they all do hard jobs, they should be treated similarly. There's no reason one group of public-sector workers should get a big, big wage increase compared to other public-sector workers," Ms. Clark said. "In these negotiations it's all about money, it's never about quality of education, and we are never talking about the kids. It's bad for education."