As the dispute between B.C.’s 40,000-plus striking public school teachers and the provincial government drags towards the end of a fourth week, (two at the end of the last school year and two so far this month) the lack of realistic, creative ideas from both sides for ending the standoff and getting students back into classrooms is becoming more and more apparent.
Both the union and government continue to remain more focused on public relations and rhetoric than actually sitting down and hammering out a deal.
Take this week’s repeated demand by the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) that the wages and benefits portion of the dispute go to binding arbitration. The government has said for months it is not a fan of the concept, having been burned back in 2002 when an arbitrator awarded the province’s doctors nearly $400 million through a similar process.
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So it wasn’t a surprise that the government rejected the idea this time around when the union proposed it. It doesn't want to risk the financial consequences of handing over control of possibly hundreds of millions in tax dollars to a third party.
Not taking no for an answer, the BCTF launched what can only be described as a public relations stunt this week by not only making the demand again, but by sending the issue to a vote by its membership. What is accomplished by having teachers vote on an idea that the government has repeatedly said is a non-starter?
Likewise for the provincial government. Listening to Education Minister Peter Fassbender is an exercise in tolerating the same message being said a hundred different ways.
For months Fassbender has dismissed BCTF's proposals or ideas and called on it to come to the table and negotiate. Although, the government’s idea of negotiation seems to be about the union simply accepting its offer, as opposed to any real give and take.
This kind of broken record routine doesn’t get schools any closer to re-opening than the union's move to vote on a binding arbitration proposal that has zero chance of happening.
Not once has either side come out with any potential solutions that are both creative and realistic.
Unless this is purely about biding time until legislating the teachers back to work, the take-it-or-leave-it approach by the government isn’t accomplishing anything to get the dispute closer to a negotiated settlement. Neither is anything we’ve seen from the BCTF.
Where is the leadership?
Where is the leadership from both sides? Where is the creativity? Where is the effort to think outside the box and find a solution that allows teachers to get some of what they want, especially on issues of class size and composition, and also allow the government to maintain the basic fiscal restraints that other public sector workers have already adhered to?
Albeit a tough task, it cannot be an impossible one. Other public sector unions have done it, including the truck drivers at the Port of Vancouver. Sadly for students, parents and teachers, both sides in this dispute are failing badly.
Years of bitter court battles, a lack of trust and an ongoing fight for control over the education system are clouding the ability of the BCTF and the government to actually sit down and negotiate anything. Thus, the strike drags on with no end in sight.