Education minister says BCTF’s latest contract demands are unreasonable and unaffordable

By on June 19, 2014
Teachers and supporters were picketing Tuesday at Osoyoos Secondary School after talks between the government and the teachers’ union broke down. From left are Peter Gajda, Greg Gendron, John Seminoff, Lloyd Matthews and Suzie Zaruk. (Richard McGuire photo)

Teachers and supporters were picketing Tuesday at Osoyoos Secondary School after talks between the government and the teachers’ union broke down. From left are Peter Gajda, Greg Gendron, John Seminoff, Lloyd Matthews and Suzie Zaruk. (Richard McGuire photo)

B.C.’s Minister of Education says the latest contract demands by the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) are unreasonable and unaffordable and the strike by more than 40,000 public school teachers in the province will continue unless the union’s demands “become more realistic.”

During a press conference in Vancouver Thursday morning, Peter Fassbender said the latest contract demands by the BCTF, tabled on Wednesday, has left the two sides further apart than they have been in some time.

Fassbender said he was personally appealing to individual teachers to speak to union leaders to come back with an offer that is more reasonable and fair and suggested the union leadership was misrepresenting the facts to its membership.

“If we are going to get a deal, the BCTF has to be more realistic,” said Fassbender.

Teachers deserve a raise, but their wage and benefit demands are “double what other public sector employees” have agreed to in other settlements over the past several months, he said.

Fassbender held the press conference shortly after the BCTF officially issued a press release stating their latest demands.

“B.C. teachers have moved significantly at the bargaining table to bring the two sides closer together, but we have not seen similar efforts from Christy Clark’s government,” said Iker. “If Christy Clark agrees to mediation and allows government negotiators to come enter that process with a more open mind, we can get a deal.”

The BCTF’s framework for settlement that is currently on the table is based on five key points:

− a five-year term

a reasonable eight per cent salary increase plus signing bonus

no concessions

a $225 million annual workload fund to address issues of class size, class composition, and staffing ratios as an interim measure while both parties await the next court ruling

– a $225 million retroactive grievances fund, over the life of the collective agreement, as a resolution to Justice Griffin’s BC Supreme Court decision that retroactively restored the stripped language from 2002. This fund would be used to address other working conditions like preparation time and TTOC compensation improvements, as well as modest improvements to health benefits.

“Our proposals are fair,” said Iker. “We have been dealing with a government that has a record of bargaining in bad faith and imposing unconstitutional legislation.

“Evidence from the government’s own officials presented in B.C. Supreme Court shows the government has stripped $275 million per year from BC’s public education system. That means an entire generation of BC kids have been short-changed.

“There is no reason B.C.’s education system should be funded $1,000 below the national average. This government built in a series of surpluses and a sizeable contingency fund in their fiscal plan over the next several years. They have the money. It’s time to reinvest in BC’s students.”

The BCTF has also demanded Premier Christy Clark appoint a mediator as quickly as possible to try and bring the two sides towards a deal.

“B.C. teachers have put forward a fair and reasonable framework for a deal that would see improved learning conditions for students on the first school day in September,” said Iker. “However, two more days of bargaining have gone by with no progress or counter offers from government and BCPSEA. At this point, the best way to get that deal that works for B.C.’s public education system is through mediation. Christy Clark should say yes to mediation today.”

Fassbender said the B.C. Public Sector Employees’ Association (BCSPEA) is willing to return to the bargaining table, with or without a mediator, as soon as the BCTF changes it positions and tables a series of contract demands that are reasonable and affordable to provincial taxpayers and more in line with what 150,000 other public sector employees have accepted.

“On Sunday, the BCPSEA tabled an affordable, creative and comprehensive package to end the stalemate, get kids back in school and create long-term stability for parents, student and teachers.

“That comprehensive offer for settlement included the special $1,200 signing bonus for a deal by June 30, an improved wage offer, guaranteed funding for class composition, and bridging provisions to address the court case.

“The comprehensive package is fully in line with the wage increases and affordable agreements already reached by nearly 150,000 public sector workers. It was not tabled lightly. It was made clear to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) that we put our best possible offer on the table and it was aimed at concluding this round of bargaining.

“On Wednesday, the BCTF presented their full set of demands. They filled in their blanks and clarified their positions. And instead of moving us closer, their latest demands moved them further away from the affordability zone for public sector settlements.

“Their wage and benefit demands alone are more than twice what other unions have settled for. On top of that, they are pushing for hundreds of millions more each year in other contract demands.

“I’m disappointed. We are now further away from an agreement than we were a week ago. We want to give teachers a raise but the BCTF leadership is making that virtually impossible.”

What BCPSEA has offered is already at the very limit of what the province can afford and the government will not stray from its fundamental commitment to balance the budget and we have an obligation to deal fairly with all 300,000 B.C. public sector workers, said Fassbender.

“I want to be clear that BCPSEA is not walking away from the table and we remain committed to reaching an agreement by June 30. Nor is government interested in legislating a contract.

“We appreciate that brings with it the possibility that this strike could go on for quite a while. How long it will last is entirely up to the BCTF – but any hope of timely resolution will require the BCTF executive to be realistic.

“We accept that they want to get the best possible deal for their members, but teachers need to understand that the best possible deal is one that lands squarely in the same affordable zone as the settlements government has already reached with other public sector unions.

“The government and BCPSEA remain committed to working with the BCTF achieve the best possible deal for teachers – while keeping it fair for other workers and affordable for taxpayers.”

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

 

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