The president of the B.C. teachers' union blasted government efforts during weekend contract talks, saying it brought nothing to the table and instead rolled back a prior wage offer.
B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) president Jim Iker was extremely critical of government negotiators, saying they squandered an opportunity when both sides met on the weekend.
Iker said the BCTF brought a significantly lower wage offer to the talks, cutting their salary demands to eight per cent over five years, but with a $5,000 signing bonus. That would have put them within one per cent of the original government offer, he said.
In contrast, Iker said, the government returned with a reduced wage offer — from 7.25 per cent to seven per cent — with the original $1,200 signing offer.
That offer — either seven per cent over six years (or 8.5 per cent over seven years) — was, sources told CBC, the result of changes to the ratio between a proposed wage increase and concomitant lower benefits.
The original government offer of 7.25 per cent included a 0.75 per cent reduction in benefits which was rejected by the BCTF.
The new offer of seven per cent will not involve any claw back in terms of benefits, so in effect is a 0.5 per cent increase on the original offer.
Class size, composition 'must' be part of deal
Iker was scornful over the government's tactics in regard to class size and composition negotiations, saying the government wants either side to be able to terminate the contract based on the outcome of its appeal to the Supreme Court.
He said that meaningful improvements to class size and composition "must" be part of any contract agreement.
"Instead of flexibility, we saw stonewalling," said Iker. "Instead of bargaining 24/7, the government sat on their hands for two days."
The government did not respond in full to the offer made by teachers on Friday evening until Sunday night, said Iker.
"The government was unprepared, unwilling and unhelpful," he said.
But Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the B.C. Public School Employer Association (BCPSEA) hit back at Iker's criticism, saying that the weekend involved a lot of delays on both sides, "characteristic of hard bargaining."
Cameron also said that the wage offer on the table from the employers is fair, but also noted that wages "are probably the least complicated" issue they are dealing with.
Although there is "still an enormous gulf" between the two sides, Cameron said they are closer than they were last Thursday.
Nevertheless, he said, at this point, the strike is on, and that the next move is down to the BCTF.
The BCPSEA released a backgrounder Monday laying out where they see the current position of the two sides.
Education minister upbeat
Earlier, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender sounded more optimistic, saying there was a 50-50 chance of getting a deal with public school teachers before tomorrow.
"Both the BCTF and the government had counter-proposals that went back and forth. They met until midnight last night," said Fassbender. "To say that they came close to an agreement would be an overstatement."
Last Thursday, the BCTF served the required strike notice of 72 hours, after members voted last week 86 per cent in favour of escalating rotating strike action.
In addition to the study sessions, the teachers have been rallying around the province today.
Teachers in Vancouver rented the Orpheum Theatre for a morning study session, which is expected to be followed by a rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Teachers are also expected to stage rallies in Mission and other school districts across the province.
Summer school up in the air
A big unanswered question is the impact of a full-scale strike on summer school. The Ministry of Education says it wants to see summer school go ahead and that the lockout would not apply to summer school.
But the union hasn't yet said how the strike might affect those plans.
Some districts run summer school programs with teachers, but others contract the work out. Bob Holmes, the president of the Surrey District Parent Advisory Committee, said summer school plans will likely vary district by district.
The Labour Relations Board (LRB) has designated provincial exams an essential service, guaranteeing high school students their final grades.
The B.C. Public School Employers' Association says the following services have now been deemed essential:
- Supervision of Grade 10-12 provincial exams.
- Provision of final grades for Grade 12 students no later than June 20.
- Carrying out of all tests scheduled to determine if a student should receive a special needs designation.
- Provision of all information needed to confirm or discontinue the designation for students in the intensive behaviour/serious mental illness category for the 2014-15 school year.
School districts must now consult with teachers on the best way to ensure these requirements are met, whilst minimizing the number of staff needed by combining classes or holding exams in larger groups.
The LRB has also said it will rule on the issue of the submission of marks for students in Grades 10 and 11 if an application is received.