B.C. teachers vote to escalate job action to full-scale strike

WATCH: BC Teachers vote 86 per cent in favour of escalating job action. Jill Bennett reports.

VANCOUVER – B.C. teachers have voted yes to escalate job action to a full-scale strike.

In total, 33,387 teachers voted, with 86 per cent voting yes to fully withdraw services. This is one of the highest voting turnouts in the history of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

“Teachers are prepared to fully withdraw services and go on a full-scale strike,” said BCTF president Jim Iker.

He said with this vote, teachers have sent a clear message to Christy Clark and the B.C. government.

“We can avoid a full-scale strike.. if the government comes to the table with an open mind,” said Iker at the press conference.

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“British Columbians should be very proud of their teachers, they are resilient, creative, caring and determined to make every single child count,” he added. “They have stood up to a government that has violated their constitutional rights twice.”

“They advocate every single day for their students and the need to get them more support.”

WATCH: Full press conference from BCTF president Jim Iker.

However, a decision on whether the full-scale strike will go ahead has not yet been made.

The BCTF has to give three working days notice before the the walkout can begin so the earliest this stage of the job action will start would likely be Tuesday, June 17.

Iker said they will make the decision to serve strike notice “soon” following “further discussion”.

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In the meantime, rotating strikes will continue this week.

There are still a lot of questions remaining around what this means for provincial exams and report cards. Arguments are being made at the Labour Relations Board Wednesday night to determine whether exams and report cards for Grades 10 to 12 will be deemed ‘essential services’ for teachers.

A full-scale walkout would affect thousands of students enrolled in summer school and summer camps, although the B.C. government said it would lift the lockout for teachers for summer school if a deal is not reached.

The voting by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation members comes after education support staff reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government on Sunday.

In a statement issued on Tuesday night, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said:

“The vote results are not unexpected. While the BCTF leadership received the mandate they sought, no one should interpret this as any kind of enthusiasm on the part of teachers to shut down schools.

“I know teachers would prefer to be in their classrooms and I know that students and parents would rather finish this school year on a positive note. It is now up to the BCTF leadership to decide if they are going to move to a full walkout.

“The earliest a full strike could begin is next Monday – five days from now. It took five days of hard bargaining to get a framework agreement with school support staff. They did not need to strike to get a fair deal and neither do teachers.

“The BCTF leadership needs to come to the table with realistic expectations and a willingness to engage in meaningful bargaining. Teachers deserve a raise but their total compensation demands are about four times more than other recent settlements.

“BCPSEA has a fair wage offer on the table, one that’s in line with recent agreements covering nearly 150,000 public sector workers – including 34,000 school support workers. The offer also includes a special $1,200 signing bonus if we reach agreement before June 30th.

“My message to the BCTF is: let’s stay at the table and get to an agreement by June 30th, so we can head into the summer with the assurance that our education system is on a path to long-term stability and focussed on student outcomes.”

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WATCH: Peter Fassbender appears on the Global BC Morning News to address the BCTF strike vote –

The teachers’ contract expired in June 2013. In March 2014 teachers voted to begin the first round of job action and in late April teachers halted a limited number of duties.

Then in late May they began rotating strikes that shut down schools in every district for one day a week.

The government responded by partially locking out teachers and docking 10 per cent of their pay.

During the job action teachers have lost wages and the BCTF has said there will not be any money left in the strike fund by the end of the week.

– With files from the Canadian Press

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