The B.C. Teachers Federation is asking the province’s Labour Relations Board for permission to fully withdraw their services for eight days in their contract dispute with the provincial government.

The BCTF said Monday night is specifically requesting that the province’s 40,000 teachers be able to withdraw service for four days a week over two consecutive weeks.

The work B.C. teachers do has been designated as an essential service, which means they cannot legally strike.

But the BCTF said it believes the eight-day action "achieves the right balance," and allows teachers to engage in meaningful job action.

The teachers’ federation is in the midst of a stalemated, year-long negotiation with the B.C. School Employers Association. There’s been no progress on wage issues, with the teachers insisting on increases, while the government has insisted that no more money can be spent on the contract.

Teachers have refused to supervise recesses, meet with adminstrators or fill out report cards since September.

In the proposal to the LRB Monday, the BCTF said it would give 24 hours notice before the two-week withdrawal of service.

Teachers rally

Teachers rallied in a number of locations after school on Monday, calling on the government to "negotiate, not legislate."

The BCTF announcement came on a day that Education Minister George Abbott backed off from threats last week to force a deal in the dispute.

Abbott said that legislation that  would have imposed a contract on the teachers, to be introduced Tuesday, might not force a settlement after all, but instead could call for a cooling off period between the two sides, or other options.

The minister's statements came just hours after BCTF president Susan Lambert said the union would take the unprecedented step of seeking strike permission from the LRB.

"The permission or the authorization that we're seeking from our members is are they prepared to take full job action," said Lambert.

Abbott also appeared to soften his position on bringing in a mediator to settle the dispute.

Despite comments made last week, Abbott indicated he would be willing after all to consider the use of a mediator on monetary issues, but only in the context of finding savings within the current budget to allow for some sort of increase: in other words, still within the government's "net-zero" mandate.

Lambert has already called on the B.C. School Employers' Association, which represents school districts and the government in the contract negotiations, to accept mediation as a fair alternative to an imposed contract.

Teachers want a 15-per-cent wage hike during the government's net-zero mandate for public-sector employees.

"The union's demands, which would add $2 billion in costs for B.C. taxpayers, are not acceptable given the current financial reality," Abbott said.

The government maintains that three quarters of public-sector unions have settled their contracts under the current policy.

B.C. teachers launched an illegal strike in 2005, resulting in a $500,000 fine for their union after the government had already legislated a contract.