BRITISH COLUMBIA

BC Teachers Contract Talks Suspended Amidst Bargaining Revisions

06/25/2013 11:28 EDT | Updated 08/25/2013 05:12 EDT
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VICTORIA - British Columbia's Liberal government and its unionized teachers are planning to spend the summer and probably longer teaching each other to count to 10.

It became obvious Tuesday the government and teachers have each come up with different answers when it comes to the Liberal government's plan to reach a 10-year labour contract with the 40,000-member BC Teachers' Federation.

The teachers say they're willing to consider a longer-term deal, but starting off negotiations at 10 years would be "foolish."

But Education Minister Peter Fassbender has noted the Liberals campaigned on a platform that included a 10-year deal.

Fassbender announced Tuesday the suspension of talks between B.C.'s public school teachers and the negotiating arm of government in a bid to overhaul the often contentious bargaining process between then two sides.

Fassbender said his most recent moves are geared to achieve the Liberal government's election promise to sign a contract with teachers and ensures labour peace for a decade

"I have not laid any absolutes on the table," Fassbender said. "I have simply said that the government ran on a platform, we were elected on a platform, and I really believe that that goal is something that we want to sit down directly with the B.C. Teachers' Federation and talk about what that could look like."

"But I'm not putting any gauntlets in front of them," he said. "I'm saying let's roll up our sleeves together and work on the solution."

The BCTF responded immediately, saying the union was disappointed the minister directed the employer representative, The BC Public School Employers' Association, to break off negotiations already underway for five months.

Fassbender scrapped the mandate of the employers association and replaced it with a single negotiator to serve as the government's lead on provincial talks. Peter Cameron will now work toward a 10-year deal with teachers and the BC School Trustees Association, said Fassbender.

"We're not taking any of the work that's already been done off the table, we're not starting over," he said. "We're doing a pause so we can develop a new road map, and that is our objective."

Outgoing BCTF president Susan Lambert said teachers welcome long-term labour stability, but the government shouldn't expect teachers to roll over for the next decade.

Long-term stability in education includes increased investment in public education to create smaller classes, better support to students, especially those with special needs and fair salary increases for teachers, she said.

"We are adamant that we will not lock students into the deteriorating conditions that are in schools today," Lambert said. "We need to have this bargaining round address our working conditions which are students' learning conditions and also address the need to adequately compensate teachers for the hard work they do."

She said the BCTF is not opposed to negotiating a long-term contract, but setting the 10-year marker as negotiations progress does not add up for teachers.

"There are creative ways to do a multi-year deal and that's a function of bargaining," said Lambert. "It's very difficult to predict what's going to happen next week much less next year, much less next decade. It would be kind of foolish, I believe, to lock people into a long-term agreement like that."

Fassbender said he didn't want to speculate on suggestions that 10 years is too long for a contract with teachers.

"What I am prepared to do is clearly say, 'Let's sit down, work together in a spirit of collaboration and co-operation, and with a goal to ensure long-term stability in our classroom for students, for teachers, for parents, for the school trustees," he said. "That's the goal and I'm not going to put any absolutes in there."

The current teacher contract expires June 30. Teachers accepted the no-wage-increase deal last year, but not after government imposing legislation banning job action and imposing a cooling off period.

Last-year's acrimonious bargaining process carried on a more than 30-year tradition that has resulted in only one successful contract negotiation, which occurred in 2006 when teachers and the government signed a five-year deal that included a 16-per-cent wage increase and a signing bonus worth about $4,000 for each teacher.

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