BC teachers’ strike: Tentative deal reached between BCTF and government

WATCH (above): In the early hours of Sept. 16, the province and BCTF struck a tentative deal to end the teachers labour dispute.

VANCOUVER – A deal has been reached in the education dispute between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government.

After an intense weekend of talks with mediator Vince Ready, the two sides have come to a tentative agreement.

The BCTF will now take the details of the agreement to the teachers for a vote on Thursday and if it is accepted, students will be heading back to class.

READ MORE: Details emerging of a 6-year deal negotiated by BCTF, government

Ready announced the deal to media at 4:15 a.m., but would not discuss details of the tentative agreement.

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“After all these hours, I am very pleased to announce that the parties have reached a tentative agreement. I’m not at liberty to release any of the details, nor are the parties. The parties are going to meet later this morning and finalize a few of the outstanding details, but generally speaking there has been a tentative agreement initialed by the parties and that’s really all I got to say at this point.”

The deal was reached at 3:50 a.m., after nearly 16 hours of negotiation between Ready, BCTF President Jim Iker, and government negotiator Peter Cameron and their respective teams in a Richmond hotel.

Neither Iker nor Cameron have made a statement on the deal yet. Education Minister Peter Fassbender isn’t commenting on the tentative deal until final language is settled on.

Teachers on the picket line Tuesday morning say they are optimistic at this news. “After the weekend of meetings and the number of hours they spent together, but you know I’m glad the public put some pressure, the public’s been made aware of all the issues,” says Hanif Karmali, teacher at King George Secondary.

“I think that’s the silver lining in all this, seeing how the public has responded and the parents.”

He says he is sure there is give-and-take on both sides and thinks teachers will ratify the deal when they vote on Thursday.

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“I’m happy with a five year or a six year [contract],” says Karmali.

He adds that he would also like to see a better system so that in another five or six years teachers and the government will not be back at the bargaining table.

WATCH: Reaction to the tentative agreement from Kamloops Superintendent Karl de Bruin:

“This agreement will presumably take us out for a number of years and pretty much guarantee we won’t see a replay of what we’ve seen this year, which is an extended strike, in the near future,” says Global News political reporter Keith Baldrey. “Teachers paid through the pocketbook in this dispute and I think when this new contract ends, which I think is a five year deal, maybe six, the appetite for this type of job action will be quite diminished among the members of the BCTF.”

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Calling this “historic”, Baldrey says the BCTF was the one “that moved the most in the dispute, but the government did too” and while the details have not been released, it’s his understanding from some of the proposals that have been going back and forth that the government put more money on the table for classroom funding, in the region of $30 million per year.

Over the next day, the two sides will be working out the finer points and language of the tentative deal.

As for when schools will re-open for students, it’s unclear.

“It’s conceivable that schools won’t be open [for students] until next week,” Baldrey says. “All that prep work that has to be done to get class composition together… in all reality, even opening the school today, your child wouldn’t get much learning, it’d still be pretty chaotic.”

READ MORE: Questions about Pro-D Days in B.C. as tentative deal reached in dispute

Vancouver School Board’s vice-chairperson Mike Lombardi said he’s delighted over the news of the tentative deal.

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“VSB has been pushing hard to settle. We want to get back to school and focus on teaching and learning,” Lombardi says. “Once we know the agreement is settled, we’ll roll up our sleeves and get the schools ready. Our goal is to get the kids back in their seats and the teachers in front of their classrooms.”

The strike entered its third week on Monday and tensions were running high on both sides of the dispute.

READ MORE: B.C. teacher’s strike – The timeline

Since negotiations led by Ready fell apart two weeks ago, teachers have voted more than 99 percent in favour of returning to work if there was binding arbitration. The government has out-ruled this, but it appeared that they are getting more flexible on the contentious E80 clause, which deals with class size and composition.

“We have said clearly, tell us what the problem with E80 is, and we’ll negotiate that,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender. “And again, negotiations are about give and take.”

Premier Christy Clark said she was confident the two sides could reach a deal before she leaves for India on Oct. 9 for a trade mission.

What brought the two sides together? Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer says enormous credit goes to veteran mediator Vince Ready.

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“He’s incredibly good at his job and if they got a deal, it’s because both sides moved — that’s where you get a deal in collective bargaining,” Palmer told Global News. “Ready is a big fan of collective bargaining and he’s said in the past in teachers’ disputes, it’s not a broken system. You get a deal when two sides want a deal. And clearly both sides preferred a deal then have this thing settled on the floor of the legislature.”

Palmer also mentioned some outstanding questions that will not come to light until the details of the deal are released.

“Where does this leave the E80 court case, if anything? What did they do with the $180 million that they saved on the strike in June? We thought all along the money would be available somehow, to make that final element of the deal work. And when do schools go back? Did they make some sort of agreement to extend the school year to make up the time lost?”

READ MORE: What is proposal “E80″ and why is it so contentious?

The full-scale strike started on June 17 of the last school year, after escalating job action by the teachers throughout the spring.

Back in March, public school teachers voted overwhelmingly (89 per cent) in favour of job action and issued 72-hour strike notice on April 17.

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In late April teachers started phase one of the strike plan and then began rotating strikes on May 26. Talks between the two sides broke down in July before resuming in late August.

The full statement from Vince Ready

Ready: “After all these hours, I am very pleased to announce that the parties have reached a tentative agreement. I’m not at liberty to release any of the details, nor are the parties. The parties are going to meet later this morning and finalize a few of the outstanding details, but generally speaking there has been a tentative agreement initialized by the parties and that’s really all I got to say at this point.”

Can you disclose any details?

Ready: I’m not at liberty to disclose any of the details, nor will the parties until they finalize them. They’ll meet later on this morning. Everyone’s a bit tired at this moment.

How did this happen? They seemed so far apart a few days ago.

Ready: It’s a process of negotiations.

Did both sides make concessions?

Ready: Both sides worked very hard to get this agreement. I’m not at liberty to discuss details. I’ll leave that to the parties.

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How are you feeling Vince?

Ready: I’m pleased that there’s an agreement,  I think the public of British Columbia will be very pleased with an agreement, that’s how I feel.

WATCH (below): VSB vice-chairperson Mike Lombardi talks about returning to school and Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer weighs in on the deal.

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