The B.C. Liberals are threatening to cut teachers' wages by five per cent and offering a $1,200 bonus to each teacher in a bid to pressure the union into signing a new deal by the end of the school year.
Peter Cameron, the government's chief negotiator, says the wage rollback could go up to 10 per cent if teachers ramp up their job action.
The province's 41,000 teachers are currently in the midst of low-level job action, including ceasing written communication with administrators and not supervising students outside the classroom. That could escalate to rotating strikes.
Cameron says the government does not need the approval of the Labour Relations Board to cut teachers' wages.
Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, took issue with the $1,200 signing bonus that the government has promised to each full-time teacher if an agreement is reached by the end of June. Iker says that money should be put towards salary raises instead.
"When you look at the numbers, it would make more sense to put that money on our salary grids," Iker said during a news conference Friday. "That would bring the two sides closer together."
Currently, the BCTF is asking for a 15.9 per cent pay raise over four years. Iker says the government has proposed an increase of 6.5 per cent over six years.
But in spite of this disparity, Iker says he remains optimistic that the two sides can reach a deal by the end of next month.
"I'm hopeful," Iker said. "We want a deal by the end of June, and that's what we're going to work towards … There need to be compromises made, and we're willing to make those compromises. But we need government to bring some reasonable offers to the table in terms of salary, class size and class composition."
On Thursday the government withdrew its demands for a 10-year deal with the teachers' union, proposing a six-year agreement instead. The BCTF has said it wants a four-year deal.
Apart from contract length, a main point of contention in the negotiations relates to staffing levels and class sizes. A court ruling earlier this year ordered the government to reinstate staffing levels and class sizes to 2002 levels, which the government claims would cost as much as $1-billion. The BCTF lost its right to set these levels in 2002, under a previous Liberal government.
The next set of meetings between the two sides are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.