Another B.C. labour strike is beginning to loom after teachers rejected recommendations from the mediator hired to negotiate a new contract with their employer.
A report from mediator David Schaub was delivered to both the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) on Nov. 1, which identified a “disconnect” between the two sides that was getting in the way of reaching a deal.
The report, released to the public Friday, recommends teachers accept the BCPSEA’s latest offer of a three-year contract with an annual two per cent salary increase.
Both of those offers are in line with the province’s Sustainable Services Mandate, which limits wage increases to two per cent per year and has been used to cut deals with nearly a quarter million other public employees.
It also recommends no change to contract language regarding class size and composition, while also calling for a $25.6-million fund to be spread over the three-year contract period to help ease workplace issues.
The two sides had until the end of day Friday to vote on Schaub’s recommendations. But the BCTF said its representative assembly had already rejected the terms, asking for more negotiating time to address key concerns.
“Teachers’ low wages in B.C. have made recruitment and retention such a problem that our province is now in a teacher shortage crisis,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said in a statement Friday.
The BCTF has said it needs to hire almost 400 new teachers, and is having trouble attracting applicants due to B.C.’s teacher salaries, which Mooring said are the lowest in Western Canada.
The BCPSEA said in its own statement Friday it had called off a vote on Schaub ‘s recommendations, despite accepting them in principle and wanting to use them as the beginning of a long-term solution.
Board chair Alan Chell said the BCPSEA was “surprised and disappointed” by the BCTF’s rejection of the report.
“In our view, this is a missed opportunity to work with the mediator to create a pathway to move forward,” Chell said.
“Although the mediator’s recommendations didn’t represent BCPSEA’s preferred approach, the board believed they would provide the public school system with the necessary labour stability while we attempted to work with the BCTF over the term of the agreement to address the structural barriers that are preventing productive negotiations.”
Teachers have been without a contract since June and have been bargaining for a new one for 67 days, 16 of which were overseen by Schaub.
Schaub’s report quote the BCTF’s submission that says B.C. teacher salaries are “stagnating” and are “falling well behind the rate of inflation,” resulting in the current teacher shortage.
The report also notes teachers’ concerns that the provincial bargaining mandate stands in the way of solving the problem, as well as the BCTF’s call for some contract issues to be dealt with at the local level.
The BCTF argues the BCPSEA requested Schaub submit his report soon after tabling its latest offer to teachers, rather than waiting for a counter-offer, which the federation calls “a normal part of the bargaining back-and-forth process.”
“The BCNDP government’s public positions supporting teachers and public education have been at odds with the employers’ actions at the table for months,” Mooring said in her statement.
“The B.C. cabinet needs to give the employer new marching orders and put new funding on the table to get a deal that works for teachers and students.”
Global News has requested comment from the Ministry of Education.