Time for both sides to cut rhetoric and get deal done
The frustration shared by hundreds of thousands of B.C. parents remains palpable after more than 40,000 members of the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) walked off the job to start full-scale strike action Tuesday morning.
Just when it looked like the BCTF and negotiating team from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) would be able to hammer out a deal this past weekend, students and parents woke up early Monday to discover talks had once again broken down.
Public school teachers across the province hit the picket lines despite the fact the BCTF made substantial concessions on wages, lowering its demands from 13 per cent over four years to eight per cent over five years.
With such a significant move on wages, it was expected the provincial government, through the BCPSEA, would make some kind of impactful counter-offer in relation to class size and composition.
That would, of course, be a pipe dream. BCPSEA chief negotiator Peter Cameron stated the union’s wage demands were still too high. Peter Fassbender, the Minister of Education, commented Tuesday that the BCTF has made concessions on wages, but has never revealed the full extent of its demands and no deal is possible until all of their demands are put on the table and negotiated.
After months of rhetoric and bargaining that apparently has not been conducted in good faith, the reality is a negotiated settlement doesn’t appear to be any closer than it was a year or two years ago.
And that’s tragic.
It’s tragic for one million students who have had to endure rotating strikes, constant disruptions and, through no choice of their own, being used as human chess pieces in this never-ending battle between the BCTF and the province.
For Grade 12 students looking forward to graduation, getting their report cards and planning for college or university, they are instead deeply concerned about how this mess is going to affect their future.
Parents are rightfully frustrated and angry as they, once again, have to make plans to have their children looked after while teachers walk with picket signs instead of leading classes.
It’s hard to pick sides in this dispute, but there are some simple and plain facts few would refute.
Public school teachers in B.C. haven’t had a raise in four years. They deserve a decent wage increase, like any other profession.
But the BCTF was dreaming if they ever thought the province would buckle to their demands of a 13 per cent increase.
To their credit, those demands have been lowered and this should have paved the way for a negotiated deal long before this strike started Tuesday.
The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled the provincial government has bargained in bad faith in the past and initiated labour unrest with the BCTF.
The arrogant Christy Clark government simply appealed the decision and has entered this latest round of talks with little or no interest in getting a deal done.
The leadership from both sides in this horrible dispute should be put in a room and not be allowed to leave until a negotiated deal is finalized.
There’s simply no excuse for holding students and parents hostage any longer.
And it should be done before the end of this week, so high school students can complete their school year without any further disruptions.
Leadership from both sides must be prepared to make concessions, work out a deal, end this strike and achieve the labour peace that has been absent in this province’s educational system for far too long.
Teachers deserve a raise and class sizes where they can provide the help students need. The province has got the wage concessions they obviously wanted.
Get a deal done.