Vancouver News

Teachers stage second week of strikes

By Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - British Columbia teachers will stage a second week of rotating strikes as their union's bitter dispute with the government drags on and families prepare for children being out of school yet again.

Every school in the province will be closed for a day next week — either Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday.

The government announced details of the escalated job action late Wednesday, after the teachers' union filed documents with the Labour Relations Board.

The teachers' union and negotiators for the government were in a bargaining session Wednesday when the union fired its latest salvo.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he's "profoundly disappointed" at the turn of events "while we're still at the table, with all of the talk that's been going on that children and parents and communities are continuing to be held hostage and put in the middle of this dispute."

"It's unfortunate," he said. "I feel very strongly that we have come to the table with a real goal to get a negotiated settlement. We've made significant moves both on the term of the agreement, on the wage settlement side, in terms of a signing bonus that we've offered."

Fassbender said the teachers' union seems unwilling to negotiate a settlement, but the government will not resort to the dysfunctional pattern of legislating a contract with the teachers' union.

"We've been at the table since we were re-elected last June and we've been willing to negotiate. And here's the bottom line: 24-7, we'll be at the table to hammer out a negotiated settlement. We need the other party to this negotiation to be at the table, willing to negotiate."

The union said in a news release that the provincial government was still refusing to put the necessary funding on the table to reach agreement on issues like class size, composition, staffing levels and wages for teachers.

"B.C. teachers are committed to negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement at the bargaining table," said Jim Iker, president of the BC Teachers' Federation.

"We also expect the government to be flexible on its wage demands and show some good faith and willingness to move. Teachers know that bargaining is about compromise, but we cannot be the only ones expected to move."

Iker thanked parents for their ongoing understanding and support. "The reaction on the picket lines has been fantastic," he said.

The one-day walkouts are part of the second stage of job action by teachers, leading the government to cut their pay by 10 per cent.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation and the government's negotiators are scheduled for a hearing at the Labour Relations Board on Thursday over lockout provisions.

Premier Christy Clark said Tuesday that she was hoping for a negotiated settlement as soon as possible, or at least within 48 hours of the LRB hearing, so students would not continue to be put in the middle of the increasingly heated dispute.

Clark said a broken bargaining system has meant several governments have had to legislate teachers back to work over the last 30 years, except in 2006.

The union has said up to 150,000 students are out of classes every day that teachers walk the picket line.

Wages are among the major issues, with the government offering a 7.3-per-cent wage increase over six years, while teachers want 13.7 per cent over four years.

They're also demanding smaller classes and support for students with various learning disabilities by specialist and resource teachers.

The current contract expired in June 2013.

In January, a B.C. Supreme Court judge awarded the teachers' union $2 million in damages and declared the province's removal of class size and composition from contract negotiations unconstitutional. The government has appealed the ruling.

The government initially wanted teachers to sign a 10-year contract but backed off, with an offer of a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached by the end of the school year.

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