Education Minister Peter Fassbender addresses students at the official opening of Goldstone Park Elementary

Little movement as school strike starts

Education Minister Peter Fassbender says teachers' union could be called on to pay benefits if school disruption continues

The provincial government is so far holding off on a threat to try to force the B.C.Teachers’ Federation to pay $5 million a month to cover the cost of its members’ benefits in response to their limited job action.

That possible financial weapon was broached earlier in the month by negotiators with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and Education Minister Peter Fassbender said it remains an option, particularly if the union escalates its tactics.

“The BCTF has said they’re taking this action to put pressure on us,” Fassbender said Thursday in an interview. “We may need to add some commensurate pressure to the BCTF if we find we’re not getting any solid options from them.”

The union has demanded pay hikes estimated at 13.5 per cent over three years, while the government has offered 6.5 per cent over the first six years of an intended 10-year deal.

Fassbender said the BCTF has made some movement in negotiations, but not a significant amount.

He expressed disappointment that despite continued talks the union opted Wednesday to begin its first-stage strike action – restricting administrative duties and supervision of students outside of class time – a move that has prompted several rural districts to cancel recess.

The BCPSEA had notified the union any strike action could trigger a call for it to cover health and welfare benefits for B.C.’s 40,000 teachers, estimated at $5 million a month.

“I don’t want to inflict pain on anybody,” Fassbender said. “But there are tools available to government as there are to the union.

“I don’t think we want to put out any threats but by the same token we need to ensure that we have stability in the classrooms. That’s our goal.”

BCTF president Jim Iker said he doubts the Labour Relations Board would approve a request ordering the union to pay benefits, noting a similar effort to make the union pay 15 per cent of wages was denied in the last teachers’ strike.

“We would see that as retaliatory and punitive for them to even think about or threaten that the union pay the cost of the benefits when teachers are in the classroom working as hard as they normally do with students,” Iker said.

Iker said it is the government that has not moved much off its position, including a refusal to bargain smaller class sizes and more access to specialist teachers.

“Our hope is we can get this deal done by the end of June and not be going into September still at the bargaining table.”

Overshadowing the labour dispute is last year’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the province must restore class size and composition to what existed in 2001.

The province has appealed the decision, saying it would impose enormous costs and disrupt programs.

Waiting until the fall for an appeal court ruling would be unfortunate, said Dan Laitsch, an associate education professor at SFU.

“It really is kind of an all-or-nothing case,” Laitsch said. “They’re playing a fairly high stakes poker game because either side could lose big depending on the outcome of the appeal.”

Ideally, he said, the two sides would recognize it’s too risky to wait and instead craft a settlement that doesn’t subject schools to a months-long strike action.

Laitsch said budget shortfalls now surfacing at many districts mean the province will be under pressure to find more money for the school system regardless of the outcome of the teachers’ dispute.

 

Just Posted

Seabird Island opens 50th annual festival

The weekend festival will see First Nations teams compete in soccer, three-pitch and canoe races

Lofty plans for Chilliwack school district revealed

Chilliwack school district draws up plan to add 2,900 student seats in five years

Agassiz study to look at drone use for pesticide application

The study will be the first in Canada to use drones to apply pesticides to farm fields

Chilliwack’s pediatric observation unit gets financial shot from trades workers

Unions and contractors donate more than $30,000 to Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation

Delays en route for Highway 7 in Harrison Mills

Road resurfacing will cause month-long delays for drivers travelling through Harrison Mills

VIDEO: Powwow shares culture at Seabird Island Festival

The 50th anniversary of the festival saw its first powwow

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen Bhavkiran Dhesi

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say boy, 11, missing for two days found safe

Dominic Mattie was last seen at 5 p.m. in the 13500-block of Gateway Drive in Surrey

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

Most Read