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B.C. teachers’ request for mediator a new point of contention for employers

BCTF President Jim Iker talks with teachers on the picket line at Delta Secondary School in Ladner, B.C., on June 17, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. teachers and the government are pinning their hopes on a veteran mediator to resolve the stalemate that has shut down the province's schools.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA), the bargaining agent for the province's school boards, have reached out to Vince Ready and are waiting for him to confirm whether he is available and willing to mediate their dispute.

Peter Cameron, the lead negotiator for the government's bargaining arm, said only a few mediators are as capable as Mr. Ready.

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"There's a bunch of expectation out there that, if Vince can't do it, then we're really in trouble," Mr. Cameron said. "It will take somebody of Vince's stature."

But he added that it is important to keep in mind that bringing in a third party is not a "magic solution," and that difficult decisions will still have to be made.

Mr. Ready may decide the timing is not right for him to get involved, Mr. Cameron said.

"Maybe he's just going to walk in and say the parties are too far apart," he said.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation said on Thursday that it would like Mr. Ready to step in, and that without someone like him, the deadlock will drag on.

Mark Brown, the facilitator for the past year, stepped down after the BCTF called for mediation. A government spokesman said Mr. Brown resigned because he felt the union had lost faith in him, but the BCTF said it was to clear the way for a mediator.

Mr. Ready did not return calls or e-mails on Thursday or Friday. He recently helped the B.C. government secure a deal with health-care workers, and to bring an end to a costly month-long strike by truckers at Port Metro Vancouver.

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He mediated the dispute between the BCTF and the government in 2005, when teachers staged an illegal two-week strike. The recommendations he prepared were eventually adopted by both the union and the government.

Although both sides are placing their hope in Mr. Ready, BCPSEA accused teachers of calling for mediation to win a public relations war, not out of a genuine desire for a resolution.

The BCPSEA issued a news release on Friday that said Mr. Ready is out of the province and will not be available until next week. In the release, it took issue with the manner in which the union communicated its desire for mediation.

"The usual and appropriate way to arrive at consensual mediation and a named mediator is by way of discussion with the bargaining agent, in this case BCPSEA – not by way of a heads-up shortly before a press release," the employers' association said.

"If the union had followed the usual labour relations practice, the parties could have determined issues such as the availability of Vince Ready and other prospective mediators so we could move this forward in an expeditious manner."

The BCTF said in a statement that it hopes the two sides can work together to secure Mr. Ready as the mediator and "get the process moving."

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The sides have moved closer on wages, but benefits and class sizes and composition continue to be sticking points.

Teachers began a full-scale strike on Tuesday, after limited job action in April and rotating walkouts in May.

Both sides are hoping to reach a deal by the end of the school year, June 27.

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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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