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Intense bargaining in store as B.C. teachers set to start full-scale strike

About two dozen students rallied in Vancouver June 4, 2014, against both sides of the ongoing B.C. public school labour dispute.

Tamsyn Burgmann/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government and the province's teachers are readying themselves for a weekend of intense bargaining in the hopes of averting a full-scale strike, leaving some students and parents wondering what will happen to summer-school classes if the labour dispute isn't resolved by the end of June.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation notified its more than 40,000 members via e-mail Wednesday evening that it will be launching a complete work stoppage starting Tuesday. Schools will also be closed Monday for what the union calls a study session: Teachers will gather off-site, but will not picket.

Some families began preparing for an early start to the summer holidays after hearing the news. Victoria resident Michele Sealey and her 13-year-old daughter Aziza are planning to load up the car and drive to the family ranch near Calgary.

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But as much as the pair are excited – Aziza to reconnect with her older cousin, Ms. Sealey to sit on her brother's porch, "listening to the wind go through the wheat" – they are still keeping their fingers crossed for an end to the dispute.

"The end-of-school activities are really important to Aziza," Ms. Sealey said. In particular, the eighth grader was looking forward to the recognition ceremony celebrating the end of middle school. "If everything gets resolved that would make me very happy," Ms. Sealey said.

B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday that he is "profoundly disappointed" by the walkout plan, but he is optimistic that the BCTF is ready to revise its demands at the bargaining table.

"I hope the light at the end of the tunnel is that on Monday we have a tentative agreement that will end this and allow the school year to end on a positive note," Mr. Fassbender told reporters.

The two sides will be at the bargaining table Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the hopes of eking out a deal, after teachers voted 86 per cent in favour of a complete work stoppage.

Meanwhile, the Labour Relations Board announced Thursday that teachers will be required to administer Grades 10-12 provincial exams and to compile and submit final grades for Grade 12 students despite the job action.

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association, which negotiates on behalf of the province, had applied to the board for an essential-services order, arguing that students could face serious consequences – such as not getting accepted to postsecondary schools – if they did not receive their final grades. The labour board delivered its ruling after the two sides met for an informal discussion on Wednesday.

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Mr. Fassbender said local school districts are still trying to work out the details, such as who will be doing the marking. As well, it's unclear whether students in other grades will get fully completed report cards.

Another issue that remains unresolved is whether the job action will result in summer-school classes being cancelled. If no deal is reached before the end of June, that could mean students who need to make up a failed grade over the holidays will not be able to do so.

The government has said that it would lift its partial lockout – which prevents teachers from being at school more than 45 minutes before or after classes – to accommodate summer-school classes in the event of a full strike.

"It will be up to the BCTF – to the union – to decide whether or not they would carry [the strike] through the summer," Mr. Fassbender said.

Teachers have been staging a series of escalating measures during the current round of negotiations, first withdrawing some services and then moving to rotating strikes. The provincial government responded with its partial lockout and by docking teachers' pay by 10 per cent.

The two sides are still apart on key issues such as wages and class size and composition. The union has said it is asking for a wage hike of 3 per cent in the first year, followed by 2.25 per cent each year over the following three years. But the government claims that when cost-of-living increases and other benefits are factored in, the pay increase is closer to 19 per cent.

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The employers' association has offered 7.3 per cent over six years, along with a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached before the end of the school year.

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About the Author
Business Reporter

Alexandra Posadzki joined the ROB in August 2017, after spending nearly three years covering banking and real estate, among other topics, for the Canadian Press newswire. More

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