B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender says he's disappointed in the decision of the teachers' union to picket summer schools if they do not reach a contract deal by June 30.
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker announced the extension of the teachers' ongoing strike action on Wednesday morning, ahead of more talks with the government after negotiations broke down last week.
However, the B.C. Public School Employers' Association has applied to the Labour Relations Board to have remedial summer school and year-round school declared essential services and therefore exempt from strike action.
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Talks broke off last Thursday after the teachers asked for mediator Vince Ready to be appointed by Premier Christy Clark to oversee the negotiations.
"We've seen this government and Premier Christy Clark try to pour cold water on the idea of mediation," said Iker.
"We must put pressure on our Premier. It’s time she stopped being entrenched in politics and made a move towards a fair deal for students."
A week ago, Fassbender said the government and the teachers' union weren't "even close" to a deal, but Iker disputes that.
"Both parties are actually only one per cent apart on wages," said Iker. "The holdup is over class composition, class size and staffing levels."
Teachers want five-point deal
Iker said B.C. teachers are seeking a deal based on five key points:
- a five-year term
- a 8 per cent salary increase plus signing bonus
- no concessions
- an annual workload fund that adequately addresses issues of class size, class composition, and staffing ratios as an interim measure while both parties await the next court ruling
- a retroactive grievances fund, as a resolution to Justice Griffin’s B.C. Supreme Court decision that retroactively restored the stripped language from 2002. This fund would be used to address other working conditions like preparation time and TTOC compensation improvements, as well as modest improvements to health benefits.
Wednesday's discussions between the teachers and the government are billed as "exploratory," since the full bargaining teams will not be taking part in the meeting.
The government has said it would end its partial lockout so that summer school can go ahead. Surrey School District spokesman Doug Strachan says a solution needs to come soon.
"We probably are able to hold off making a decision to cancel summer school until at least the week that summer school is set to begin, which is July 2."
'We need a new paradigm'
B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he was disappointed with the BCTF's decision to extend strike action to summer schools.
"We had hoped significantly that the BCTF would see the value for all these students and their parents to allow summer school to go ahead," said Fassbender in a scrum with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
However, he said, the government would not be legislating teachers back to work to guarantee summer school.
"We are not rushing to legislation. The government is not going to continue the cycle of disruption, legislation, litigation. We are going to stay the course and we are not going to legislate.
The minister also rejected the idea that a mediator would help negotiations at this point.
"A mediator cannot facilitate an agreement if the parties are as far apart as we are right now," said Fassbender. "Even if we split the difference it would still be double what other public sectors have received."
Fassbender said ultimately the government was prepared to negotiate all summer and wanted to get the school system stable and functioning again.
"This is not about winners and losers other than we need a new paradigm, a new day, on how we do business. That’s our goal, that’s our commitment and we’re going to stick to it."
No talks since Thursday
Since contract talks broke off last Thursday, Vince Ready has refused to oversee the negotiations and the independent facilitator, who had already spent a year managing the negotiations, resigned citing a lack of confidence.
Iker said the union would be discussing the issue of a mediator and, in theory, could get into mediation and bargaining on the same day.
Meanwhile, as the parties convene to revisit the prospect of negotiations, some school districts sent memos to teachers Tuesday directing that students' final marks be based on an average of their first two terms.
The Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows School District has sent a memo saying marks should be bumped up to ensure any student with a mark higher than 39 per cent receives a passing grade.
The Ministry of Education also revealed Monday that a number of essay questions would be removed from some provincial exams in Social Studies 11 and English 10 due to concerns "related to the validity and quality of the marking."