Next week teachers across B.C. will decide if they will strike in response to government's appeal of a court decision reinstating contract language stripped from teachers in 2002 and a lower than expected wage increase offer.
B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) president Jim Iker called a press conference on Feb. 25 announcing the government's 0.5 per cent wage increase offer as "unreasonable" and "unfair" and pointing to the court appeal as a way to "strip teachers' working conditions and freeze wages."
He then called for a province-wide strike vote to take place from March 4 to 6.
The dates coincide with the next bargaining session set with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA).
"For teachers, our only recourse in response to the unfair and unreasonable proposals at this point in time is to apply pressure through a strike vote," Iker said Tuesday. "Such a vote, however, does not mean imminent school closures. We will consider our job action and timing very, very carefully."
Iker said the BCTF's goal is to get to a negotiated deal at the bargaining table.
Chief negotiator for BCPSEA, Peter Cameron, said he was "rather surprised" to hear teachers were considering a strike without bringing a counter wage offer to the bargaining table.
"Ordinarily the parties have actually put their comprehensive positions forward and they've discussed them. The absence of a salary position from the union is particularly striking, so to speak," he said, noting the offer was government's "initial comprehensive offer including wages."
"If the union wants to get into that kind of debate, they do have an obligation to put their position forward for public discussion."
Iker would not say exactly how much teachers are seeking, only that they want a "fair and reasonable" deal.
"We're hoping that the pressure of a strike vote will be enough for government to get serious at the bargaining table and that they will come with reasonable proposals at the bargaining table," Iker said.
Minister of Education Peter Fassbender told reporters on Tuesday he was "disappointed on behalf of the people of B.C." in the BCTF's move to hold a strike vote.
"I have constantly said our goal as government is to stay at the table, to find a negotiated settlement, to resolve the issues at the table, so for me, I think this is very provocative in terms of how our process in bargaining goes," Fassbender said.
He noted that although government filed an appeal of Madam Justice Griffin's ruling to reinstate contract language stripped from teachers in 2002, it didn't mean the two parties couldn't continue bargaining things like wages and class size and composition at the table.
"I'd hoped we could continue to bargain. While the court process carries on, we could stay at the table and negotiate," Fassbender said.
Locally the Sunshine Coast Teachers' Association (SCTA) seems in favour of a strike vote, with SCTA president Louise Herle noting it is their "only recourse in response to the unfair and unreasonable government proposals at this point."
"Teachers feel that it's long past time for government to do the right thing and negotiate in good faith to restore our class size, composition and staffing ratio provisions that were illegally stripped," Herle said. "This would benefit students on the Sunshine Coast with more teacher librarians, more teacher counsellors, more educational services and support for our students in every class."
Whether teachers will be in favour of a strike and what exactly that strike may look like is yet to be decided, but if the majority of teachers are in favour, the BCTF will then have 90 days to coordinate their strike action.
Late Wednesday, court documents were released that showed Justice Harris had accepted the government's court appeal and stayed Justice Griffin's previous ruling "pending the resolution" of the appeal.
Harris encouraged "the parties to proceed as expeditiously as possible to have this appeal heard as soon as reasonably possible."
A hearing date was not set by press time Thursday morning.
© Coast Reporter