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B.C. education minister optimistic 2020 a ‘breakthrough year’ for teacher contract talks

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming optimistic about teacher contract negotiations
In an extended interview, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming says he is optimistic the teacher's union and the employer will reach a negotiated agreement soon, after their contract expired six months ago.

B.C.’s education minister says he’s optimistic 2020 will be a “breakthrough year” as teacher contract negotiations resume next month.

Fleming said Labour Relations Board (LRB)-appointed mediator David Schaub will meet with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) to resume mediated talks in February.

Contract negotiations hit a roadblock in November when the union rejected the mediator’s contract settlement recommendations.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers reject mediator’s recommendations for contract settlement with employer

“We are at the table with the BC Teachers’ Federation, we will soon be, with the assistance of a mediator, getting back to things here in the new year,” Fleming said during an unrelated funding announcement in Penticton, B.C., on Monday.

B.C. teachers reject mediator’s recommended terms of settlement for new contract
B.C. teachers reject mediator’s recommended terms of settlement for new contract

“Really looking at 2020 to be a breakthrough year and trying to get an agreement much like the ones we’ve achieved with nurses and other public servants.”

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The mediator’s report recommended teachers accept the BCPSEA’s latest offer of a three-year contract with an annual two per cent salary increase.

Both of the offers were in line with the province’s Sustainable Services Mandate, which limits public sector wage increases to two per cent per year.

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

The mediator also recommended no change to contract language regarding class size and composition and suggested a $25.6-million fund to be spread over the three-year contract period to help ease workplace issues.

The BCTF rejected the terms, saying teachers’ salaries in B.C. have fallen behind other provinces leading to recruitment and retention issues.

When asked if B.C. teachers deserve a wage increase in line with other western Canadian provinces, Fleming said the wage proposals are more attractive than what the Alberta government is offering teachers.

READ MORE: Alberta arbitration outcomes result in no wage increases in cases involving ATA and UNA

Keith Baldrey on teachers negotiations
Keith Baldrey on teachers negotiations

“I have family members in the teaching profession in Alberta, and what the Kenney government is putting on the table is wage cuts and wage freezes for the foreseeable future, we don’t support that at all,” Fleming said.

“We do think that British Columbia teachers deserve a raise. The sooner we settle, the sooner they’ll get a raise in their pocket that they deserve. The contract having expired six months ago, it will be retroactive pay if we get to an agreement in the very near future which will also be nice for teachers,” he said.

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

Collective bargaining began on Feb. 19, 2019 and teachers have been without a collective agreement since their previous deal expired on June 30, 2019.

Fleming said he is optimistic a new deal will be reached soon.

Fleming was in Penticton on Monday to announce $11.5 million for École Entre-lacs.

The funding will allow the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF), B.C.’s french-language school board, to purchase the school property from the Okanagan-Skaha school district.

The CSF was operating the francophone school on a short-term lease from SD 67 sine September 2017 and will now own and operate the school independently.

-With files from Sean Boynton