Talks between BCTF and government break down

Teachers on the picket line on day 1 of the full-scale strike.
Teachers on the picket line on day 1 of the full-scale strike. Roger Hope / Global News

It seems like talks between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) have broken down.

There have been a few days of exploratory hearings between the BCTF and the government, but now another mediator has turned down the job to help the two sides reach an agreement.

The two sides issued a joint statement on the outcome of the exploratory discussions:

“The BCPSEA and the BCTF agreed that Mr. Justice Stephen Kelleher would be an acceptable mediator. He had some exploratory discussions with the parties and determined that mediation is not indicated at this time. “The parties appreciate the Supreme Court making him available.”

When it comes to the discussions, the two sides are close on solving the wage issue, but the biggest gap comes from funding for the classroom, which affects class size and composition.

Story continues below advertisement

“We are well within 1 per cent on salary — well within the range that should make mediation viable,” says BCTF President Jim Iker.

He says teachers are “willing to compromise,” but the government has not offered any more money for improvements to class size and composition.

Iker says the government also has preconditions on bargaining that would make mediation difficult. Iker urged the province to remove the preconditions.

He also said individual union locals will make their own decisions about whether or not to picket during the summer.

The BCTF want more special education assistants in the classroom, more counsellors, and more resources for psychological testing for students.

Teachers are saying that they need more resources to help them with students that need more help than others, as it makes teaching a class very difficult if they do not have assistance.

The government says there are 9,374 educational assistants working in schools today but the BCTF says the number of specialist teachers has decreased by 20 per cent between 2001 and 2012.

The government has been adamant that they do not want to slip into a deficit and what the BCTF is asking for will cost too much money.

Story continues below advertisement

Education Minister Peter Fassbender issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying there’s “no process and no mediator that can bridge this gap at this time.”

“The BCTF continues to demand total compensation gains that are more than twice what other unions have settled for. On top of that, they are also pushing for hundreds of millions more each year in other contract demands.”

Fassbender says the government is ready to negotiate at any time over the summer.

Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey says with talks breaking down, it is likely the strike will go on all summer, with no picket lines except where summer schools are operating.

This raises the question of when school will start in September.