Education Minister Peter Fassbender addresses students at the official opening of Goldstone Park Elementary

Little movement as school strike starts

Education Minister Peter Fassbender says teachers' union could be called on to pay benefits if school disruption continues

The provincial government is so far holding off on a threat to try to force the B.C.Teachers’ Federation to pay $5 million a month to cover the cost of its members’ benefits in response to their limited job action.

That possible financial weapon was broached earlier in the month by negotiators with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and Education Minister Peter Fassbender said it remains an option, particularly if the union escalates its tactics.

“The BCTF has said they’re taking this action to put pressure on us,” Fassbender said Thursday in an interview. “We may need to add some commensurate pressure to the BCTF if we find we’re not getting any solid options from them.”

The union has demanded pay hikes estimated at 13.5 per cent over three years, while the government has offered 6.5 per cent over the first six years of an intended 10-year deal.

Fassbender said the BCTF has made some movement in negotiations, but not a significant amount.

He expressed disappointment that despite continued talks the union opted Wednesday to begin its first-stage strike action – restricting administrative duties and supervision of students outside of class time – a move that has prompted several rural districts to cancel recess.

The BCPSEA had notified the union any strike action could trigger a call for it to cover health and welfare benefits for B.C.’s 40,000 teachers, estimated at $5 million a month.

“I don’t want to inflict pain on anybody,” Fassbender said. “But there are tools available to government as there are to the union.

“I don’t think we want to put out any threats but by the same token we need to ensure that we have stability in the classrooms. That’s our goal.”

BCTF president Jim Iker said he doubts the Labour Relations Board would approve a request ordering the union to pay benefits, noting a similar effort to make the union pay 15 per cent of wages was denied in the last teachers’ strike.

“We would see that as retaliatory and punitive for them to even think about or threaten that the union pay the cost of the benefits when teachers are in the classroom working as hard as they normally do with students,” Iker said.

Iker said it is the government that has not moved much off its position, including a refusal to bargain smaller class sizes and more access to specialist teachers.

“Our hope is we can get this deal done by the end of June and not be going into September still at the bargaining table.”

Overshadowing the labour dispute is last year’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the province must restore class size and composition to what existed in 2001.

The province has appealed the decision, saying it would impose enormous costs and disrupt programs.

Waiting until the fall for an appeal court ruling would be unfortunate, said Dan Laitsch, an associate education professor at SFU.

“It really is kind of an all-or-nothing case,” Laitsch said. “They’re playing a fairly high stakes poker game because either side could lose big depending on the outcome of the appeal.”

Ideally, he said, the two sides would recognize it’s too risky to wait and instead craft a settlement that doesn’t subject schools to a months-long strike action.

Laitsch said budget shortfalls now surfacing at many districts mean the province will be under pressure to find more money for the school system regardless of the outcome of the teachers’ dispute.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

When crisis hits: How West Shore RCMP have dealt with the pandemic

More front-line officers on road in mobile offices

Sidney staff recommends additional outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes

Report before council also leaves open possibility of closing a portion of Beacon Avenue

French fries to juicy tomatoes, rock art brings joy to walkers in Victoria

James Bay yard filled with painted rocks delights all ages

‘Depression-era’ unemployment figures could hit Greater Victoria

South Island Prosperity Project launches new dashboard to measure effects of COVID-19

Langford bartender hosts singalong livestream for seniors

Live Senior Singalong takes place daily at 1 p.m. on Facebook

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

Most Read