06/05/2014 04:48 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:02 EDT

B.C. teachers' strike: Will students' exams get marked?

It remains unclear how a possible full-scale strike by B.C.'s 41,000 teachers could affect final exams and report cards for graduating students across the province.

With the union planning a vote next week that could lead to a full strike before the end of the school year,  the B.C. government is promising to measures to ensure all graduating students will be able to complete their required exams.

In the past, provincial exams have fallen under essential services legislation, but the B.C. Teachers' Federation says that not all exams are essential, and some might not be marked.

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The B.C. Teachers' Federation said Wednesday it will vote next week whether to escalate job action to a full-scale strike, after losing its fight against a 10 per cent pay cut by the government during ongoing rotating one-day strikes.

In addition, BCTF president Jim Iker said Thursday the rotating strikes would continue next week and a schedule of the affected schools would be released later today.

B.C.'s 41,000 teachers mounted the strikes after contract negotiations with the provincial government stalled. The government has issued a partial lockout notice limiting time teachers can spend at schools during non-teaching hours. 

When questioned about the impact of a full-strike on exam marking Thursday, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he is profoundly disappointed.

"We will ensure that every graduate will be able to complete their required exams, they will be marked, as well as the other grades where their exams are critical," he said.

However, Fassbender said he did not know how all that would be done, but he had staff working on it.

The minister said he was profoundly disappointed with the BCTF's decision to vote on a full-scale strike.

"When I see the potential of students' graduations and their exams targeted, at this time of the year, that disturbs me on behalf, I think, of every parent," he said.

"Students and teachers and parents should be able to celebrate the end of a successful year and all of the hard work they've done."

Fassbender said the government would not rush to introduce back-to-work legislation if it could reach a negotiated settlement instead.

"I would hope that the BCTF would say, if they are interested in the students — and I believe at the heart of it they are —  that they would be willing to stop the strike action, let the year complete and let us get back to the bargaining table."

'They've caused chaos'

BCTF president Jim Iker, who was picketing with teachers in Port Coquitlam Thursday, said the government were to blame for the continuing action because of their decision to impose a partial lock out on teachers.

"They've caused chaos, they've caused confusion, in fact, they're the ones who have been punishing our kids by not allowing us to work with our students," he said.

Iker said, with one and a half weeks left in the school year and exams potentially impact, the BCTF did not take the decision to vote on a full-scale walkout lightly — and exams may be affected.

"Depending on when we enact the full-scale walkout, the exams could be affected, depending on when those exams are scheduled," he said.

"But for us it's not about moving to Stage 3, it's about getting the government to the bargaining table in good faith."

Iker said under their essential services designation, the BCTF had every right to strike at this moment and the government could always go to the Labour Relations Board.

'Prepared to negotiate 24/7'

Meanwhile behind closed doors, negotiations continue between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the bargaining arm of the government.

In a statement Wednesday, the employers' public administrator Michael Marchbank said the union has less than four weeks to hammer out an agreement.

He said the employers were "prepared to negotiate 24/7 if needed."

"We want this solved by the end of the school year so we can focus on the needs of students in our public education system and ensure that their education is not disrupted further by this labour dispute.

"If not, we are prepared to negotiate all summer so that the next school year is not impacted.”

Teachers did not mount rotating strikes on Wednesday, but hundreds of students across the province walked out to show their displeasure at being caught in the middle of the dispute.

Earlier this week, the union announced it was reducing its wage demands from a 15.9 per cent increase over four years to roughly 14 per cent over four years, including increases for the cost of living.

The government is offering 7.25 per cent over six years plus a signing bonus.