B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender says talks between the government and the B.C. Teachers' Federation to settle the strike are "not even close" to a deal, but the union says it's time for a mediator to be brought in to reach a deal.
Speaking at the provincial cabinet offices on Thursday morning, Fassbender issued a clear message to teachers about where the provincial government stands on the status of contract talks.
"We are not even close in where we need to be in order to get a negotiated agreement," he said.
The provincial government claims the union's latest proposal equates to double the cost of the average public sector contract in combined wages, benefits and signing bonus.
In comparison, Fassbender used the phrase "affordability zone" to describe the contracts signed by 150,000 other public sector employees.
"The affordability zone is clearly indicated by all of the other representatives of public sectors that are there. And you can see the BCTF is clearly in a zone of their own. That's not affordable. It's not realistic," he said.
Fassbender said the latest union proposal equates to a 14.5 per cent increase in wages and benefits, compared with the provincial average of seven per cent.
"The BCTF wants to stay in their own orbit. They don't want to recognize the realities of our economy, of the needs of taxpayers. And their compensation demands are twice what the other unions have settled for," he said.
BCTF calls for mediator
In a statement issued just before Fassbender spoke on Thursday morning, BCTF president Jim Iker called for the premier to get involved and bring in a mediator to end the dispute, citing no progress in the last two days of bargaining.
"At this point, the best way to get that deal that works for B.C.'s public education system is through mediation. Christy Clark should say yes to mediation today," said Iker.
Later at an afternoon news conference, Iker named Vince Ready, who recently settled the contract dispute at Port Metro Vancouver, as the union's choice for a mediator to settle the contract dispute.
"We are calling on Vince Ready to be the mediator and we are hoping the government will agree with our choice. Vince Ready has a lot of experience with disputes such as this."
Iker also said the union has moved into the government's "zone" on wages, and it was time for the government to move toward the union's position on class size and composition.
No mediation yet
The education minister said he is open to the idea of mediation, but made no commitment. Instead, Fassbender insisted the union must lower its proposals on wages, benefits, signing bonuses and class sizes.
"We need to recognize that when we can negotiate deals with 150,000 public sector employees, and in the case of CUPE, with support workers in the education system, in five days, why can't we do that?
"Well one of the reasons is the other party has to be closer to what is realistic and affordable."
Fassbender insists he wants a deal done by the end of the month, and has no plans to legislate teachers back to work.