Members of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) are used to attending BC NDP conventions. But this year they are lobbying outside of it.
More than 300 teachers’ union members were in Victoria on Saturday, meeting and speaking to NDP delegates about the ongoing teachers dispute.
The BCTF and the provincial government have been negotiating since February, and teachers have been working without a long-term contract since the previous agreement expired at the end of June.
“We are here to have thoughtful conversations, not to disrupt anything at all,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said.
“It seems like there still is a gap of knowledge as to what we are facing at the bargaining table.”
There are around 800 delegates from across the province attending the NDP’s policy convention.
The union has consistently raised the issue that the province still needs to hire almost 400 new teachers. The BCTF is arguing the province is struggling to fill the jobs because of what it calls low wages.
Statistics Canada’s most recent data on Canadian teacher salaries shows that only Quebec pays a lower starting salary for the sector.
Mooring adds there are a lot of certified adults in the classrooms where there should be certified teachers instead.
The government negotiating team and the BCTF negotiators are set to resume talks in December.
The NDP and the union have long been aligned on many policy issues and Mooring sees the convention as a chance to remind delegates of that.
“We are really hoping to raise awareness amongst the public, amongst NDP delegates, that they really need to put their actions where their values lie,” Mooring said.
Premier John Horgan agrees the two sides have common values.
In October, 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.
Horgan says he isn’t bothered by BCTF members speaking to people outside the convention.
“What we have is a dispute between parties in a collective bargaining negotiation. It’s not dispute about values. It’s not a dispute about our equal passion for public education,” Horgan said.
“It doesn’t disappoint me. I talk to teachers all the time.”
–with files from Simon Little