05/15/2014 06:33 EDT | Updated 07/15/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Teachers' Contract:10-Year Deal Now Off The Table

VICTORIA - The B.C. government has ditched its demand for a 10-year teachers' contract and is now offering a six-year-deal and a signing bonus if there's an agreement before the end of the school year.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said details of the latest government offer will be revealed after its chief negotiator, Peter Cameron, makes the presentation to union officials Friday.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said he hasn't yet seen the proposal, but members are glad the government "has finally seen the error in their ways," although there are still are other sticking points at the bargaining table.

After voting 89 per cent in favour of a strike in March, the union is in its first phase of job action, which includes refusing to supervise students outside class or communicate in writing with administrators.

Fassbender said the six-year term and time-limited signing bonus is meant to signal to teachers, parents, students and trustees that the government wants labour peace before the start of the new school year.

"One of the major elements is that we are prepared to negotiate the first step of a decade of labour peace by putting a six-year term on the table for the negotiators to have with the BCTF."

Fassbender said the government has already negotiated other long-term agreements, including a tentative five-year deal announced Thursday with health-care workers, and now wants to deal with the teachers' contract, which expired at the end of June 2013.

"We want to say to teachers, we want long-term stability," he said. "We want to say to students and parents: This is about your education and we know that stability in the classrooms is fundamental to their outcomes."

Iker called the 10-year contract term, introduced by Premier Christy Clark, unfair, unreasonable and unworkable from the very beginning.

He said teachers have already moved from a proposed three-year contract term to a four-year contract term, and he suggested the union may be willing to move even a little more.

"We're glad that finally they've come off 10 and they've moved to six," he said. "We're at four. We're closer. We're open to compromise. Bargaining is about moving forward and not backward."

Apart from the length of the contract term, teachers and the government are divided on several other issues, he said.

Iker said the government hasn't tabled a single proposed improvement related to class size, class composition, or staffing levels for specialist teaches who work one-on-one with students, and the government is also still pushing "zeros" on pay increases.

Still, Iker said the teachers' union hopes to come to an agreement with the government by the end of June.

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