Teachers ‘very far apart’ on deal

It’s been a tumultuous week of gains and setbacks for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

It’s been a tumultuous week of gains and setbacks for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

Despite a Tuesday ruling by the B.C. Labour Relations Board that deemed report cards a non-essential service, the union remains embroiled in stalled contract negotiations as the provincewide teachers strike enters it fourth month.

This week’s ruling came in response to an application made earlier this month by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, bargaining agent for B.C.’s 60 boards of education.

“It’s a message to our trustees to stop trying to put pressure on teachers and to redirect and focus their attention on the irresponsibility of this government,” said teachers’ federation president Susan Lambert.

Employers’ association vice-president Alan Chell was disappointed in the ruling and the loss of what he called a consistent and important form of feedback.

“The BCTF is on strike and that’s causing pressure on the education system,” he said. “We wanted to put some pressure back on the BCTF with the goal of speeding up the pace of negotiations.

“Without that pressure, we’ll be back at the bargaining table focusing all of our efforts on trying to work toward a deal, but we are very far apart.”

Teachers have been abstaining from administrative duties since the school year began.

Meanwhile, no new agreement on class size and composition was reached before negotiations between the teachers and the Ministry of Education broke down this week. That, despite the fact a B.C. Supreme Court ruling last April found the 2001 removal of class size and composition restrictions in Bill 28 unconstitutional.

“Where we go from here, I don’t really know,” Lambert said. “We have been told that government is crafting what they call corrective legislation, which we expect will be tabled in the new session of the legislature in the middle of February.”

Government put a thoughtful, constructive proposal on the table, backed by a $165-million investment to better support teachers, Education Minister George Abbott said at a press conference Nov. 28.

“At any point, if the teachers’ federation is willing to re-engage on our $165-million-dollar proposal, to talk about how the parties can work together and collaborate on class composition issues, we’d love to sit down with them again. But it needs to be a realistic discussion,” he said. “It can’t involve an additional billion dollars in expenditure at a time when we simply can’t afford that.”

At the time of the Supreme Court ruling, local and provincial teachers’ associations called on the province to immediately infuse the 2011-12 education budget with $275 million, which is the amount the Ministry of Education expected to save annually when class size restrictions were lifted in 2001. A one-year time limit on reaching an agreement was also put in place.

“For government to persist stubbornly in this violation of our collective agreement rights leads me to question what kind of a democracy we live in,” Lambert added. “I just don’t know what else we can do.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

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