Sept. 2 came and went without B.C. students returning to class and on Sept. 3 Premier Christy Clark made it clear that the provincial government blamed teachers.
“It’s only the teachers that can end this strike,” Clark told reporters during her first public address on the issue Wednesday, remaining adamant government will not legislate teachers back to work.
“Parents have had this experience many times over the last 30 years where discussions have ended at the table, strikes, disputes, orders back to work and then inevitably strikes again. And I know that students, parents and I believe classroom teachers are all very unhappy about this. I am absolutely unhappy about it as well. But I do realize that after 30 years there are no easy fixes for this and there are no shortcuts to making sure that we can achieve long-term labour peace in the classroom for kids.”
She said three things needed to happen in order for the province to reach a deal with teachers.
She said teachers must suspend their strike action while bargaining takes place, that the teachers’ union “needs to come to the table with a proposal that’s realistic,” and that “once we’ve done that it will give us the chance to get to the issue that’s most vitally important and that’s classroom composition.”
She chastised the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) for a proposal she said called for unlimited massages, more time off and a $5,000 signing bonus per teacher.
“How do we get kids and children in this province back to school? I would say the way to do that is let’s get past these wage issues,” Clark said.
Two hours later BCTF president Jim Iker addressed reporters, saying the $5,000 signing bonus was originally the government’s idea and that the premier was wrong about the unlimited massages, which were “never on the table” and the extra time off, which was actually a proposal for more prep time for secondary school teachers.
Iker added the BCTF has made “significant moves” at the bargaining table and he believed there were actually “three major roadblocks” preventing a deal with the province.
First he said the government has not been willing to let bargaining move forward at a normal pace.
“It took me 14 days of talks with [the B.C. Public School Employer’s] lead negotiator in July to secure just one single bargaining date on Aug. 8,” Iker said.
Secondly, he said, the government has not responded “in any meaningful way” to any of the “significant moves” the BCTF has taken during bargaining, highlighting the move that brought teachers within one percent of the wage offer government had on the table.
Finally Iker said the government is trying to negotiate its way out of the court case that ruled government illegally stripped teachers of their right to bargain class size and composition in the past.
“They want to nullify what teachers just won in court. It’s an unreasonable stand to take and it’s preventing both sides from moving forward,” Iker said.
“This is the single biggest obstacle to getting a deal, which would see our schools open. Teachers say, ‘let the courts decide. In the interim, increase funding to improve the learning conditions and negotiate a fair settlement.’”
He said teachers have no plans to end their strike before a deal is reached, adding that teachers are also locked out by the government at this time.
School District No. 46 (SD46) superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking sent a letter to parents confirming that schools would remain closed until further notice.
“Parents with questions about their children’s education are welcome to contact their child’s principal at the school telephone number,” he said. “We continue to hope for a resolution in the near future.”
While the dispute drags on parents of public school students 12 years old and under can register at http://bcparentinfo.ca/ to receive $40 per student for each day school is not in session.
The temporary education support for parents program is intended to help parents with the added cost of learning and supervision for the duration of the labour disruption.
Parents and primary caregivers are eligible to apply.
Payment will be made by cheque in a single payment mailed to the address provided during registration. Most payments will be processed within 30 days, after the month that the labour disruption ends.
— With files from Ian Jacques
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