The B.C. Teachers' Federation says it has reduced its wage demands by one percentage point, but the acrimony on both sides of the labour dispute continues as teachers and government negotiators remain far apart in negotiations.
The union says it is now asking for a pay hike of 9.75 per cent over four years, not including the cost-of-living allowance that compensates for inflation. The increases would be 3 per cent in the first year, followed by 2.25 per cent each year over the following three years.
However, the government says that when the pay increases are compounded over the four years and the cost-of-living allowance is added, the BCTF is asking for a total wage increase of 14.7 per cent – compared with 15.9 per cent previously.
The BCTF announced the reduced wage offer to its members in an e-mail. "Despite these important moves by the BCTF, the government responded with nothing," it said. "They did not provide a single counter or adjust any of their proposals."
The most recent offer from the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the government's bargaining arm, is a wage increase of 7.3 per cent over six years.
The province's 41,000 teachers are in the midst of a second week of rotating strikes. The labour strife also includes a partial lockout imposed by the government, which prevents teachers from going to work more than 45 minutes before the start of class or staying more than 45 minutes after class has ended.
Students across the province walked out of class on Wednesday to protest against the job action, saying it interferes with their ability to learn. More than a dozen students holding signs gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, cheering as they elicited honks from passing cars.
Mitchell Key, a Grade 9 student at Kitsilano Secondary School, said some of his schoolmates are failing their classes because they are not able to get the help they need from their teachers outside of class.
"The teachers want more pay and they want [a bigger] budget for the school," he said. "But by trying to fight for that, they're screwing us over."
Mitchell said he doesn't side with either party – he would just like to see a resolution so students can focus on learning.
The student said he isn't encouraged by news that the BCTF has reduced its wage demands by one percentage point. "This has been going on for something like 15 years," he said. "I don't think one little per cent decrease is going to make that much of a difference."
Chris Kavelaars, who is in Grade 10, said students are sick of being treated like pawns in a political battle. "Nobody really listens to us," Chris said. "We're just getting used. We don't have official representation in the discussions, so we feel left out and like we don't have a say."
A B.C. Labour Relations Board ruling is expected over whether the government should be permitted to dock teachers' pay by 10 per cent in response to the job action.