Teachers, gov’t in mediated contract talks
B.C.’s teachers’ union and the province began mediated talks for a new contract on Wednesday, but parents won’t have to worry about any disruption to the start of the school year even if negotiations fail.
Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said there is no scenario in which teachers would undertake job action or a strike before school begins on Sept. 3, even if mediation ends without a deal.
“We’re going to start the school year, regardless,” Mooring said. “What would be more comfortable for everyone, obviously, would be a collective agreement in place. And that’s our goal. Eight days of mediation is actually a lot of time.”
The collective agreement between teachers and government expired on June 30, but its terms carry on until a new contract is signed. Mediation is scheduled for eight days, with mediator David Schaub instituting a media blackout on specific proposals on the table.
Teachers are one of the last major public-sector unions yet to sign a new contract with the NDP government.
Finance Minister Carole James set a “sustainable services” mandate that requires unions to agree to a three-year term, with a two-per-cent annual wage increase, and the ability to negotiate side funding for service improvements in their sector.
So far, 68 per cent of B.C.’s 330,000 unionized public-sector employees have new deals, including major unions like the B.C. Government and Services Employees Union, Doctors of B.C., and nurses.
“We want the parties to reach a fair deal that works for students, parents and teachers,” the Ministry of Finance said in a statement. “That’s why we’re pleased both sides have agreed to mediation. This is encouraging.
“We’re optimistic that the parties will find solutions and reach a deal that works for students, teachers, and everyone in the school system.”
Mooring said a new contract must address a “critical teacher shortage.”
There’s not enough certified teachers to fill classrooms in north-central B.C. and on the north coast, she said. There also aren’t enough teachers left on the substitute list in southern Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver, which means special needs teachers often have to fill in to the detriment of their classes, said Mooring.
Teachers argue part of recruitment problem is that B.C. has the second-lowest starting salary in the country.
Also looming over the negotiations is the BCTF’s 2016 victory at the Supreme Court of Canada, which restored class size and composition language the previous Liberal government had improperly stripped from teacher contracts.
Both the previous Liberal and current NDP government have sought to renegotiate that language, claiming it is a complicated series of ratios and caps that vary by school district.