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BC tables legislation to end dispute

Report finds no hope for negotiated agreement

BC’s government imposed a six-month cooling-off period in its dispute with teachers. The legislation, once passed, will take away teachers’ ability to strike legally. It calls for a mediator to resolve issues by the end of August.

The legislation was tabled just over an hour after BC’s  Labour Relations Board ruled that teachers can walk off their jobs, beginning with a three-day strike, but they must give parents two days’ warning. After that, teachers can strike for one day a week.

The ruling came after teachers said they wanted to step up job action after BC’s government said it was preparing legislation to end a year-long contract dispute with teachers.

Education Minister George Abbott said last week he had asked his staff to prepare a bill that would resolve the dispute with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). “In my mind, when the adults can’t reach a respectful agreement on things, it is always the students who pay the price,” he said during a conference call with reporters.

Abbott’s announcement followed the release of a fact finder’s report that concluded it was very unlikely that teachers and the province could reach a negotiated settlement. The report found that the two sides remained far apart despite almost one year of negotiations and more than 75 face-to-face sessions.

BCTF has called for mediation, rather than legislation, to resolve the bargaining impasse.

Cathy Fisher, president of Powell River and District Teachers’ Association, said teachers were concerned about the proposed legislation. “We’re concerned for the public education system and we’re concerned for other public sector unions as well,” she said. ”We believe that teachers, like everybody else, should be able to bargain a collective agreement.”

Since job action began, teachers have not been writing report cards, supervising students outside of instructional hours, administering provincial tests, attending staff meetings or performing administrative duties.

BCTF representatives are studying the bill and haven’t ruled out a full-scale walkout.

Over the weekend, a majority of delegates at a BC School Trustees’ Association meeting passed a motion that called for an expedited mediator to assist the BCTF and the BC Public School Employers’ Association in reaching a compromise.

Members of Powell River Board of Education also agreed, at the February 21 meeting, that they supported a negotiated agreement, as opposed to legislation.

Abbott said in a statement issued on Sunday that government is considering mediation to resolve parts of the dispute, but not wages or benefits. He said the government’s net-zero mandate, which means no wage hike or other cost increases unless savings can be found elsewhere, includes the BCTF as well as other public sector unions.

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