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B.C. teachers’ union and employer to meet for first time in more than a month

Striking B.C. teachers at the Vancouver Art Gallery during a noon time rally June 16, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's teachers union and the government's lead negotiator have scheduled their first face-to-face meeting in more than a month, as a prolonged strike threatens to delay the start of the coming school year.

The BC Teachers' Federation and the BC Public School Employers' Association issued a joint statement Friday announcing a meeting for next Friday.

The province's more than 40,000 teachers launched a full-scale strike about two weeks before the end of the school year and there have been no negotiations since the end of June.

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"We'll see where things go, and if it's positive, hopefully things can get wrapped up before the start of a new school year," union vice-president Glen Hansman said in an interview.

"This is an opportunity for both parties to say where they're going to be able to move."

The dispute has focused on a range of issues including wages and teaching conditions, such as the size and composition of classes.

The government has argued the union's proposals would add hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to the province's education budget, while the union has accused the province of chronically underfunding the school system.

Hansman said the union has new ideas to bring to the table, but he declined to reveal what the teachers' federation plans to propose.

"We've had some revisions, we've had stuff we've wanted to present but we haven't been able to," he said.

"The salary issue as far as we're concerned is pretty much resolved, we're a horse hair between one another on that issue. The holdup from our perspective is new resources for class size and composition."

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The union's most recent proposal sought a wage hike and two multimillion-dollar funds to hire more teachers and resolve grievances.

The province has repeatedly said the union's proposal is outside the "affordability zone," particularly when compared with other public-sector workers.

In the last school year, teachers withdrew a number of administrative duties before staging one-day-a-week strikes that rotated throughout the province for three weeks. That escalated into a full-scale strike in mid-June.

B.C.'s Education Ministry declined to comment about the scheduled meeting.

Earlier this week, the province's finance minister announced a child-care subsidy that would give parents $40 a day for child care, tutoring or other educational options for children under 13 if the strike extends into the school year.

Mike de Jong said about 300,000 students would be eligible. The program would be funded with the $12 million the government saves every day that teachers aren't in the classroom.

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