B.C. teachers' strike: Education Minister Peter Fassbender 'never been a fan' of arbitration
Union president Jim Iker says teachers will end strike if province agrees to binding arbitration
B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender wouldn't flat-out say "no" to a proposal to use binding arbitration to settle the three-month-old strike, but made it sound like an unlikely solution.
"We are not prepared to say to someone else, well you make our decisions for us," he said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
"I think the reality is that I've never been a fan of binding arbitration. I don't think anyone in the labour relations field feels that that is a vehicle that really serves the interests of all parties," Fassbender said.
Fassbender was reacting to the proposal put forth by the president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation earlier in the day.
He said he hadn't yet seen any details or the teachers union's proposed preconditions for arbitration and until he does, he won't make any "categorical statements" about whether the government will go for it.
"Until we see some details, it's very difficult for me to comment beyond that," he said.
Union calls for binding arbitration to settle strike
Earlier on Friday morning, B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker called for binding arbitration to settle the three-month teachers' strike—with the exception of some key issues.
Iker said he would ask union members to vote for binding arbitration if the government agrees to drop its proposal known as E80, which would set class sizes and composition at current levels.
Instead, those issues would be settled by the courts, as part of a continuing legal battle.
Iker also proposed what has been called a workplace improvement fund or a learning improvement fund that would be settled through negotiation.
He made the proposal during a live webcast to the province's 41,000 striking teachers, who are meeting Friday around the province with local union leaders.
Legal battle underway
Earlier this year, the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the province to pay $2 million in damages for removing the teachers' collective rights to bargain on class size and composition and support for special needs students in 2002 — and for failing to reinstate them when ordered by the court last April.
The government launched an appeal of that decision in February, and it has yet to be resolved by the courts.
Previously, both sides in the dispute have rejected binding arbitration as a solution, with Premier Christy Clark saying earlier this week that the contract dispute must be settled at the negotiating table.
Instead, Clark has been calling on the union to suspend the strike so teachers can return to classes while negotiations resume.
On Friday, picket lines at most schools were taken down for the day to allow teachers to meet with union leaders, as a way to exchange views about the strike.
After the meetings, the union will hold rallies around B.C., including one at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver at 5 p.m. PT.
With files from Steven Smart and Steve Lus