08/28/2012 07:41 EDT | Updated 10/28/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. education minister looks for better relations with the province's teachers

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's public school students are heading back to class with labour certainty, but the province's education minister says keeping it that way will take a lot of time and discussion.

George Abbott said Tuesday he's hoping for better relations with the province's 40,000 public-school teachers after the ratification of a new contract agreement in June.

"I think I'm pretty confident that it will be a good school year in terms of labour relations, but I don't think we can take anything for granted," said Abbott.

"I think we need to continue to try to build a better relationship with the B.C. Teachers Federation, recognizing that whenever there's a troubled relationship, as we have here in British Columbia, that there's a lot of work that I'm sure needs to be done on all parties to try to improve that relationship."

Last September, the province's teachers refused to perform certain administrative duties in a dispute over wages, class sizes and class composition.

At the height of their job action, teachers walked out of their classrooms for three days before being forced back to work by government legislation.

In June, members of the teachers' federation voted 75 per cent in favour of a new contract with the province, although the turnout was low and it will only last another year.

The new contracts gives teachers improved benefits and seniority provisions but no wage increase.

Abbott said the current contract expires in June 2013 and negotiations will begin next spring.

Whether or not teachers receive a pay raise will be a decision of the provincial government and will likely reflect the province's economic circumstances, said Abbott.

When asked if he would do anything differently, Abbott said the government and teachers need to have honest and open discussion on how to do things differently next time.

As for his political future, Abbott said he'll announce in the coming days his plans for the next provincial election.

"I have not made a final decision on that but I will not be keeping you in suspense for long," said Abbott.

"I'm hoping to announce a decision in that regard in the immediate days ahead."