The B.C. government says it will not rush through legislation to end a strike by the province's teachers, which began on Monday morning.

Students across B.C. were not in class as 41,000 teachers began a three-day strike with protests outside many schools.

The government has introduced legislation to end the job action and appoint a mediator to resolve the dispute, but it is not expected to be passed into law for at least a week or possibly longer.

In the meantime, the teachers are legally permitted to strike for three days this week and one day a week in following weeks.

Last week, the NDP Opposition promised to delay the passage of the back-to-work legislation as long as possible, with plans to speak up to 17 hours on the second reading of the bill alone.

"On Thursday afternoon we had every expectation that the house would stay in session for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to debate this bill, to fully exhaust our concerns," NDP house leader John Horgan said.

But there was no special sitting over the weekend and on Monday Horgan was critical of the government's failure to push the legislation.

 

"I would have thought that if the government was serious about getting kids back in the classroom they would have taken action before now," Horgan said.

Liberal government house leader Rich Coleman said there are no plans to ram through the legislation for Bill 22 as long as the teachers are not breaking any laws.

"Well, the teachers are doing a legal job action. People should first of all recognize that," Coleman said. "The only time the legislature would usually do something about enforcing a legal contract and sending somebody back to work would be if they are breaking the law. They haven't broken the law."

Instead of debating the legislation first thing on Monday the legislature spent the morning listing to the regularly scheduled private members statements.

Teachers protest outside schools

In Vancouver, B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert said the teachers would do whatever they could to fight the government's legislation to end the strike, but would not say what actions they would take after the three-day strike ends on Wednesday.

"We will be consulting with our members and we will have our members decide what to do," said Lambert.

Groups of teachers staged protests outside several Vancouver schools on Monday morning.

One group circling Strathcona Elementary School told CBC News that they were protesting and not picketing, and because they were carrying their signs rather than wearing them around their necks, they did not believe they were violating the ban on picket lines.

Striking teachers have been ordered by the B.C. Labour Relations Board not to picket schools, but Lambert says that doesn't mean teachers can't stage protests outside schools.

"They will be organizing meetings in front of the schools early in the mornings, and maybe some leafleting  and then some general meetings and study sessions and planning sessions," said Lambert.

Some schools open

The education minister has asked the province's school districts to keep schools open whenever possible, but many districts say they will not have adequate staff to supervise children and are asking parents to keep their children at home or make alternate plans.

Other school districts have said their schools will be closed to students for the day and that has left many parents scrambling to make child care plans.

In Vancouver, if students show up at school, officials will call their parents and every effort will be made to send students back home, according to Supt. Steve Cardwell.

"It is really going to be very difficult for our school system to handle students when really we have very limited staff — our administration and a few support staff — on duty," said Cardwell on Monday morning.

"Our principals and vice-principals will be on-duty and providing emergency support at the schools. There may be one or two children at some schools that arrive, and they will be contacting parents whenever possible and asking parents to pick their children up."

The province has said it will appoint a mediator to settle the contract dispute, but teachers are questioning the independence of any government-appointed mediator.

At issue are wage increases and class size limits. The teachers are asking for a 15 per cent wage increase over three years, while the government says there can be no wage or benefits increases for any public sector workers.

Teachers first launched limited job action in September after their contract expired in June.