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B.C. offering teachers right to strike, indexed pay in pitch for 10-year pact

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, right, makes an education announcement with Education Minister Don McRae in Vancouver on Oct. 17, 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. government is proposing that the province's teachers get the full right to strike and indexed compensation in exchange for signing a 10-year labour agreement, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The union representing teachers would also have the right to negotiate contentious workplace issues such as class size and class compensation, something they aren't able to do now.

The terms of the proposed plan are laid out in a document entitled Working Together for Students that Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae are scheduled to release Thursday morning. A copy of the paper was obtained by The Globe.

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The premier is also expected to announce a significant financial component to the proposal at her news conference.

The framework for the long-term agreement is based on four key essentials: a new Priority Education Investment Fund to address education priorities; a new Education Policy Council that would be comprised of representatives from government, the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the boards of education and trustees that would advise the government on education policy; indexing of teachers' compensation to an average of other major public sector increases and a newly structured bargaining process.

The two elements that are certain to get the most attention is the new bargaining structure and indexed compensation.

Currently, teachers are considered an essential service and the government has the power to order them back to work if they go on strike. The proposed agreement would change that and give teachers the same rights that many unionized workers have and allow them to remain on strike for as long as they want. The BCTF has been calling for this privilege for some time.

The union is less likely to be thrilled by the plan to have their raises indexed according to the average of other public sector increases. In the document prepared by the government, a graph shows that between 2002-03 and 2011-12, the teachers would have benefited slightly under the indexed arrangement. But the BCTF has long argued that the province's teachers are vastly underpaid compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the country so this scheme is unlikely to please them.

B.C. has one of the most rancorous government-teacher relationships in the country. That tumult has been described by at least one education historian as the single most defining characteristic of public education in the province.

The first three aspects of the proposal – dedicated funding, a policy council and indexed compensation – are contingent on the teachers signing on for a 10-year deal. The fourth element around a new bargaining process will likely happen regardless of whether the teachers accept the offer or not.

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It's almost certain that no decision will be made on this plan before the election on May 14. However, it could very well emerge as a key election issue, depending on the stand that the Opposition New Democratic Party takes on it.

The proposal is largely based on earlier reports and also recommendations made by key stakeholder groups, including the BCTF. The union made six recommendations, which would appear to have all been addressed in the tentative proposal.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More


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