As the B.C. government pushes for a 10-year contract with teachers, the incoming president of the teachers' union says he might be prepared to go partway there, but his members oppose a decade-long agreement.
"When we talk with our members, they are clear with us that they do not support a 10-year deal, especially a long-term deal that has been framed as it was in the paper that the government released," Jim Iker said in an interview on Friday.
But the new president of the B.C. Teachers Federation said there might be support for a longer-than-usual agreement. The last deal was for two years.
"Are we open to a longer-term deal that is a fair deal for our members and provides better support and more one-on-one time for the kids that we teach? Absolutely," he said.
Any longer-term deal, he said, would have to be fair to BCTF members and address issues of class size, class composition, ratios of learning specialists, preparation time and salaries.
Mr. Iker, an educator from the Burns Lake region who has previously served as a chief negotiator on the provincial bargaining team, takes over as president of the BCTF on July 1, replacing Susan Lambert.
His comments came a day after Peter Fassbender, the newly appointed education minister, meet with stakeholders including leaders of the 41,000-member-strong BCTF, to reiterate the government's determination to negotiate a 10-year deal.
Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals campaigned on the idea as a means of bringing stability to the education system, and Ms. Clark has enshrined it in her mandate letter to Mr. Fassbender as a priority on his political to-do list.
The Education Minister declined to comment, in detail, during a news conference on Thursday about whether he or the government would be open to a deal that fell short of the 10-year mark. He said the decade-long agreement remains a priority for the Liberals.
Mr. Fassbender wants to reboot ongoing labour talks later this year to negotiate the deal over that time frame. The BCTF responded by noting that talks have been going well and should proceed without interruption.
Mr. Iker reiterated that view. "We're at the bargaining table and want to continue being at the bargaining table to reach an agreement," he said.
He said he was mindful of the government's push for stability, but noted the government could achieve stability by properly funding the education system. The BCTF has noted that B.C.'s per-student funding is $1,000 below the national average.
"A longer deal absolutely gives them what they want in terms of stability. You have stability when you fund the system properly," he said.