B.C. teachers’ pay now at the heart of stalled contract negotiations

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WATCH: BCTF raises concerns about teacher shortage

With B.C.’s school year now six weeks underway, the union representing the province’s teachers is warning that hundreds of positions remain unfilled.

The press from the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) comes as teachers and their employer remain locked in tough contract negotiations that have been underway since the spring.

The BCTF says the province still needs to hire almost 400 new teachers, and it says B.C. is struggling to attract applicants due to what it calls low wages.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers head back to class amid stalled contract negotiations

“Low wages are definitely a problem for retaining teachers and attracting teachers as well,” said BCTF president Teri Mooring.

“If Ontario, due to their provincial government, ends up with a number of teachers who are out of work, it’s doubtful they would come all the way to B.C. when we have such a high cost of living and they would take such a significant pay cut.”

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Statistics Canada’s most recent data on Canadian teacher salaries shows that only Quebec pays a lower starting salary for the sector.

READ MORE: B.C. teacher contract talks on hold until after school year starts

In a letter that was posted earlier this month, the BC Public School Employer Association said it tabled a three-year contract offer to teachers with an annual two per cent salary increase.

That’s in line with the deal the province has cut with nearly a quarter million other public employees so far, guided by its Sustainable Services Mandate, which limits wage increases to two per cent per year.

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The deal also included no change in contract language, but was rejected by BCTF leadership.

The union has previously said concessions on language around class size and composition had been the key sticking point in negotiations.

READ MORE: ‘Completely untrue’: B.C. teachers’ union president says province seeking contract concessions

Teachers had warned they were at risk of losing ratios that had been won back in 2016’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling restoring 2002 contract language.

But B.C. teachers are paid less than their counterparts in Alberta and Ontario, and are now looking to close that gap.

Mediation between the teachers and their employer is slated to conclude in November, but with the two sides seemingly entrenched in their positions, the prospect of a school strike is becoming more likely.