The former university president tasked with brokering a deal between teachers and the government during the last labour skirmish has some advice for both sides trying to end the current strike: Stop using the media to negotiate and focus on getting a deal in private.
"When you try to negotiate through the public, you end up inflaming the situation," Charles Jago said this week after talks broke down amid a flurry of allegations and counter-allegations related to weekend bargaining sessions.
"And one party claiming the other party isn't being entirely truthful – it is not healthy. There must be enough tension at that table in any event and this kind of situation just makes it worse."
Dr. Jago was referring to developments on Monday, when British Columbia Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker accused the province of moving backward on its wage offer and squandering an opportunity to sign a new five-year deal.
In response, Peter Cameron – lead negotiator for the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the bargaining agent for the province's 60 school boards – said Mr. Iker was misrepresenting the government's wage proposal and the BCTF had yet to present a complete offer that included all of the costs of implementing the union's proposals.
On Tuesday, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he believed both parties want the dispute resolved.
But he repeated the government's contention that the union's proposals, including a fund to resolve outstanding grievances, amounts to asking the government to write a blank cheque.
"The BCTF has not put a fully costed, comprehensive proposal on the table. That's what we're waiting for, that's what we need and negotiations can continue," he said.
The contract for B.C.'s 41,000 teachers expired last June. Since then, the BCTF and BCPSEA have failed to agree on issues including wages, the length of a new contract and provisions for class size and composition.
In recent talks, the BCTF proposed a five-year term, up from four years, with a wage increase of 8 per cent, down from its original proposal for 13.5 per cent over three years.
BCPSEA, however, puts the overall cost of the union's compensation demands at 12.5 per cent – more than double the 5.5 per cent reached in other recent public-sector agreements.
Dr. Jago, an academic researcher and former president of the University of Northern British Columbia, was appointed as a mediator in teacher labour talks in 2012. The BCTF challenged his appointment, citing Dr. Jago's lack of mediation experience and his previous associations with the Liberal government, which included writing a 2006 report on education.
But his appointment stood and in June, 2012, the two sides struck a deal.
But that contract was for a two-year term that ended June 30, 2013, meaning there was little time before the process started over again.
"It [the 2012 contract] bought all the players a year, but regrettably that year doesn't appear to have been used constructively to address some fundamental problems," Dr. Jago said.
Teachers began limited job action in April, moved to rotating strikes in May and as of June 16, are in a full strike that has closed schools around the province indefinitely.
For most districts, the last day of the school year is June 27. Some districts operate on a year-round calendar that includes a shorter summer break; students in those schools could miss more classroom time as a result of the strike.
With a report from Canadian Press