Published in 24 Hours Vancouver | February 25, 2014 | Circulation: 280,000+
B.C.’s school system is in the middle of a “toxic” labour battle, with negotiations breaking down and teachers set to vote next week on likely strike action.
BC Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said the March 6 vote would “very, very likely, absolutely” support striking, but that any action would be “gradual” and not shut down schools.
B.C.’s lead negotiator, Peter Cameron, reacted by describing the tensions as “toxic” and the BCTF’s strike vote announcement as “not civil behaviour.”
Meanwhile, the president of the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils said the umbrella group — which represents about half the province’s 1,600 PACS — is both surprised and “upset that once again” negotiating has taken place in the media.
“Too much of what should be behind closed doors is happening in public,” Terry Berting said. “There are a few too many scare tactics — the government isn’t totally innocent there either.”
Cameron, director of the BC Public School Employers Association that is in talks with the BCTF, said a “lengthy period of relative stability” is needed after years of education acrimony.
“No other bargaining relationship in the province has got the toxicity in its history of this one,” he told reporters.
But on the heels of the 40,000-member union’s B.C. Supreme Court victory ruling that the government had previously attempted to provoke a teachers strike, the BCTF decried what it described as “unreasonable” offers — including a maximum 0.5% wage increase per year, and what it claimed was a refusal to bargain on class size and composition — the latter allegation disputed by the province.
“Bargaining is about moving forward, not backwards,” said Iker. “For months now behind closed doors, this government has been unreasonable, unfair and provocative … acting like a historic court win never happened.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender called the vote “provocative and unfortunate,” repeatedly stating the government intends to “stay at the table, to find a negotiated settlement.”
He dismissed any suggestion the province had lost credibility after the stinging Supreme Court rebuke.
“Quite honestly, we didn’t provoke anything,” he said. “It is the teachers that are calling for a strike vote — not the government.
“I respect the teachers’ federation’s right to do whatever they choose to do (but) I want the public to know this was not our choice.”