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B.C. Teachers Return To Bargaining Table With Liberal Government

B.C. teachers and the province return to the bargaining table in just over a week to attempt to hammer out a new contract.

The two parties took a break during the provincial election campaign, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation fully expected to resume negotiations with an NDP government.

But instead, they'll return to talks with their old employer following the Liberals' surprise win in the provincial election earlier this week.

- More on the Liberals' surprise majority

BCTF president Susan Lambert hopes teachers and the Liberal government can redefine their relationship.

"I'm hoping, given now a solid mandate for four years, one the government can be confident with, there will be a maturing of the relationship that brings resources to the table to address the serious issues,” she said.

The teachers’ current contract, which was signed just last year, expires on June 30.

- Read about the current contract

The contract was signed following an almost year-long bitter labour dispute between teachers and the B.C. government.

Embattled relationship

At the time, teachers said the contract offer was agreed to under duress, and was largely aimed at avoiding potential fines and the threat of punitive legislation.

While they weren’t permitted to stage a full-scale strike, teachers did walk out of classes for three days early last year and started the 2012-13 school year by refusing to perform some administrative duties like filling out report cards.

The dispute ended only when the government introduced back-to-work legislation aimed at ending any job action on the part of teachers.

- Read more about the back-to-work legislation

The move did little to improve the embattled relationship between the province’s teachers and their employer. The provincial government has had to forcibly end nearly every set of contract negotiations with teachers over the past two decades.

The most recent dispute focused largely on wages, with teachers asking for a 15-per-cent pay increase and the province sticking to no-wage-increase policy.

However, class size and composition — contentious issues the union and province have sparred over for years — were also cited as stumbling blocks during the lengthy labour dispute.

The province argues issues of class size are subjective and the rules should be flexible enough to allow school boards and individual schools to make decisions as needed.

After winning a B.C. Supreme Court challenge, the union will be able to negotiate class size and composition in the current round of contract talks.

A challenge of the province’s back to work legislation, Bill 22, is currently before the courts.

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