07/31/2013 08:37 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT

B.C. Teachers Contract: Right To Strike Proposed By Fassbender

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VANCOUVER - B.C.'s education minister is proposing to give teachers back the right to strike with legislative amendments planned for the next time the legislature sits, part of an effort to reach a 10-year contract agreement.

In a letter to school board chairs and superintendents Wednesday, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the amendments will reflect what he calls "innovations," including allowing teachers to negotiate directly with the government.

He also told reporters later that teachers have asked for the full right to strike, a right the union lost after the Liberal government came to power in 2001.

"We're wide open to that discussion as we move forward," he said.

"I think what it says is we want to sit down and talk about how do we ensure stability in the school system, that we avoid disruption. and that's really the key."

But Glen Hansman, first vice-president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said he won't comment until teachers meet with Fassbender.

"We don't really know the details," said Hansman. "I mean, we've learned that you can only read so much into a ministry press release or comments that a minister might make to the media."

Hansman said the teachers' union sent the government a letter last fall, asking for all dispute-resolution tools under the labour code.

He said teachers want the same tools as other workers, everything from mediation to a strike-lockout mechanism.

"We haven't had access to all those things," he said, noting the tools allow both sides to apply the necessary pressure at the bargaining table and avoid drawn-out disputes.

In the past, the BC Teachers' Federation has negotiated with the BC Public School Employers' Association, which has acted for boards of education.

But Fassbender announced Wednesday that group has been pushed aside, and he named Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Health Employers' Association of British Columbia, the public administrator of the school employers' association, too.

Marchbank will assume all responsibilities of the BCPSEA board of directors.

The ministry announced the move will allow the government to restructure its bargaining process and move towards a long-term deal with teachers when talks resumes in September.

The contract with teachers expired at the end of June.

In January, Premier Christy Clark promised her government would make an effort to secure lasting peace with a long-term contract agreement, and an attempt to reach a 10-year agreement with teachers was part of the Liberal's election platform.

Right after Fassbender was appointed minister in June, he wrote to the teachers saying innovations in the new approach would include giving them the right to strike.

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