B.C. teachers' strike: talks continue under mediator Vince Ready
Veteran mediator Vince Ready meets with both sides behind closed doors
Mediator Vince Ready met with the teacher's union and the employer into the evening Friday after agreeing to stay involved for a second day of talks.
Ready indicated the two sides in the B.C. teachers' strike are still far apart, but said it was worth convening the bargaining teams to see if progress could be made.
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"It was a very candid exchange about the differences in their positions," Ready told reporters after meeting with both sides for four hours at a hotel in Richmond, B.C on Thursday.
"They still are a long ways apart. I’ve asked them to return tomorrow with their bargaining committees and present me with some proposals that will hopefully lead to some serious negotiations and the continuation of negotiations."
BCTF President Jim Iker said Friday as he arrived for a second day of talks that he was hopeful progress could be made.
"What we're hoping for is that we can wrap this up in the next four days," he told reporters.
But the B.C. Public School Employer's Association warned earlier that talks may go nowhere if the teachers don't agree to set aside grievances related to an ongoing court battle that has both sides $225 million apart before negotiations even begin.
Last ditch proposal
Ready agreed earlier this month to work with the groups, but said real mediation can't start until teachers and government are closer to agreeing to terms.
After a summer of stalled negotiations, Thursday's meeting came when Iker, and Cameron met with B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender on Wednesday — a meeting which appeared to offer hope that meaningful talks between the two sides could begin.
At that meeting, Fassbender proposed both sides put on hold the specific issues that are currently the subject of an ongoing court battle.
He also proposed if mediated talks can begin on the remaining issues, that the strike and lockout be suspended for two weeks to reopen schools for the start of school.
But Fassbender said Iker told him in the meeting he would need to consult the union executive before responding. The minister said Iker also told him teachers would need to vote before the strike would be suspended.
On Thursday, Fassbender called on Iker to canvass teachers in advance of Sept. 2 on the idea of suspending the BCTF's pickets if Vince Ready is engaged in mediation.
"There are only a few days ahead for Mr. Iker to seek a mandate from teachers on this idea," said Fassbender.
"I think parents, students and communities would like to know whether the BCTF is willing to let schools open and allow teachers to work while mediator Vince Ready helps the parties to negotiate an agreement.
The fight over Bill 28
The legal battle to which Fassbender is referring is the ongoing fight over Bill 28, legislation which the Liberal government introduced in 2002 that took away teachers' ability to bargain class size and composition.
Recently the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the legislation was illegal, and ordered the government to settle with the teachers. But the government is now appealing that ruling.
Fassbender, who estimates teachers' legal grievances amount to $225 million a year in additional funding, is now asking the teachers to put those issues aside while they wait for the legal appeals to be exhausted.
"Put that aside for the sake of this process, because it will run its normal course, and we'll see what comes out of it at that point," said Fassbender on Thursday morning.
But a Ministry of Education spokesman insists the government is still willing to discuss class size and composition in negotiations.
With files from The Canadian Press