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Parents promise to get militant in their demand for classroom labour peace

Minister of Education Peter Fassbender talks with media after meeting individually with the B.C. School Trustees’ Association, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in Vancouver in June 2013.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

B.C. parents fed up with the dispute between the government and the province's 41,000 public school teachers say they want to turn up the pressure on both sides to ink a deal by staging their own demonstrations.

"Parents are frustrated, even though we've got lots of experience with this and have dealt with it in the past," Terry Berting, president of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, said at the association's conference Friday, where more than 100 parents had gathered.

"Deep down we're approaching a tipping point where perhaps parents are going to have to do something on our own if this doesn't get settled soon."

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Mr. Berting said the parents group has been patient and kept fairly quiet up until now, but that patience is running out. He said the group will be meeting over the weekend to discuss strategies for encouraging the two sides to reach an agreement.

"We're not dealing with car parts here. This is serious and kids are being affected."

B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender gave the keynote speech to the group Friday morning, but many in the audience said they were unmoved by his promise to work around the clock – even through the summer break if necessary – to forge a settlement.

Mr. Fassbender spoke about the need to balance teachers' demands for higher wages and smaller class sizes with the need to have a balanced budget and to spend taxpayers' money wisely.

The BC Teachers' Federation is asking for a wage increase of 13.7 per cent over four years, while the employer is offering 7.3 per cent over six years. Also at issue are a pair of court rulings ordering the government to reinstate classroom sizes and staffing to pre-2002 levels, a move the government says would cost taxpayers $2-billion.

Teachers were out of the classroom last week for one day each as part of a four-day rotating strike that will continue next week. There is also a kind of lockout in place that prevents teachers from coming into work more than 45 minutes before class begins or staying more than 45 minutes after it ends.

"Teachers deserve a raise," Mr. Fassbender said during his speech. "Teachers deserve stability … But we also need to be able to keep the economy moving."

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Stacie Dafoe, a parent of two from Kelowna, said she was unsatisfied with Mr. Fassbender's speech, which she felt was full of political rhetoric. "I think he gave the answers that he thinks we want to hear. I would just appreciate a little more honesty."

Orra Storkan, whose 18-year-old is set to graduate this year, said the situation for her son and his classmates is frightening. "They don't have another kick at this; they don't have another chance; they have to go on to postsecondary. If you screw up their deadlines, if you screw up their ability to complete provincial exams on time, it does really have a huge impact on them."

The mother from Lillooet said she believes the government is committed to getting the problem resolved fairly. "From the outside looking in, I think it's pretty hard to ask for such an extravagant wage increase," she said. "No one is more deserving or less deserving, but … if we stall out over salary and wage, I don't think [teachers] are going to have much sympathy from parents."

Mr. Fassbender said his goal is to revamp the bargaining process to break the decades-long cycle of labour strife in the education system. The government has no desire to legislate teachers back to work as it has in the past, he said.

"We want to change the pattern," Mr. Fassbender said. "We want to stop the disruption, legislation and court cases. We want to get on with the educational future of our children."

The two sides are planning to return to the bargaining table next week. On Wednesday, a ruling is expected from the Labour Relations Board about whether the government should be permitted to slash teachers' wages 10 per cent to make up for their reduced workloads during the job action.

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Alexandra Posadzki is a multimedia journalist who has worked in Vancouver and Toronto covering a range of topics including crime, disasters, labour strife, business, politics and justice. More

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