NEWS
06/17/2014 09:08 EDT | Updated 08/17/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. teachers' strike escalates to full walkout

The B.C. teachers' union has begun a full-scale strike after failing to resolve its long-running contract dispute with the government during last-ditch weekend negotiation.

Last Thursday, the B.C. Teachers' Federation served the required strike notice of 72 hours, after members voted last week 86 per cent in favour of escalating rotating strike action.

The province's 41,000 teachers have been without a contract since June 2013, and the full strike is the latest development in a dispute that has seen the union and government divided over issues of wages and classroom conditions.

Speaking on Monday, BCTF​ president Jim Iker blasted government efforts during weekend contract talks, saying it brought nothing to the table and instead rolled back a prior wage offer.

Iker was also scornful over the government's tactics in regard to class size and composition negotiations, saying the government wants either side to be able to terminate the contract based on the outcome of its appeal to the Supreme Court.

He said that meaningful improvements to class size and composition "must" be part of any contract agreement.

Hard bargaining

Speaking Monday, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender disagreed with Iker's criticisms, saying that although there was still lots of work to be done, it was a productive weekend of bargaining.

Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the B.C. Public School Employer Association (BCPSEA) also hit back at Iker's criticism, saying that the weekend involved a lot of delays on both sides, "characteristic of hard bargaining."

Cameron also said that the wage offer on the table from the employers is fair, but also noted that wages "are probably the least complicated" issue they are dealing with.

Although there is "still an enormous gulf" between the two sides, Cameron said they are closer than they were last Thursday.

Nevertheless, he said, at this point, the strike is on, and that the next move is down to the BCTF.

The BCPSEA released a backgrounder Monday laying out where they see the current position of the two sides.

Summer school still in doubt

A big unanswered question is the impact of a full-scale strike on summer school. The Ministry of Education says it wants to see summer school go ahead and that the lockout would not apply to summer school.

But the union hasn't yet said how the strike might affect those plans.

Some districts run summer school programs with teachers, but others contract the work out. Bob Holmes, the president of the Surrey District Parent Advisory Committee, said summer school plans will likely vary district by district.

The Labour Relations Board (LRB) has designated provincial exams an essential service, guaranteeing high school students their final grades.

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association says the following services have now been deemed essential:

- Supervision of Grade 10-12 provincial exams.

- Provision of final grades for Grade 12 students no later than June 20.

- Carrying out of all tests scheduled to determine if a student should receive a special needs designation.

- Provision of all information needed to confirm or discontinue the designation for students in the intensive behaviour/serious mental illness category for the 2014-15 school year.

School districts must now consult with teachers on the best way to ensure these requirements are met, whilst minimizing the number of staff needed by combining classes or holding exams in larger groups.

The LRB has also said it will rule on the issue of the submission of marks for students in Grades 10 and 11 if an application is received​.

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