B.C. teachers press for mediated settlement

Provincial government prepares legislation to impose new agreement
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 02/24/2012

The union representing British Columbia teachers is hoping for a mediated settlement in its ongoing contract dispute with the provincial government. Their plea comes after Education Minister George Abbott said on Feb. 23 that the government is preparing legislation that would impose a deal on the two parties.

The B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) is urging the B.C. School Employers Association to accept mediation as an alternative to an imposed contract, BCTF president Susan Lambert said in a news conference.

“This government has a choice,” Lambert said. “It can help find the compromises necessary to reach a settlement, or it can use bullying legislation that will only make matters worse.”

Abbott said he’d consider mediation for non-monetary related issues, but that a mediator wouldn’t be able to resolve the $2-billion divide between the government and the union on compensation.

The teachers’ union is asking for a 15 per cent pay hike, while the government insists on maintaining its “net-zero mandate.”

"There is probably zero prospect of a resolution of this dispute,” Abbott said. “All of this, I must say, leaves me deeply disappointed that we are in the position we have been in far too many times over the last 30 years.”

A special fact-finding report looking into the dispute was released on Feb. 23. Author Trevor Hughes, assistant deputy minister of industrial relations, found that during the almost year-long negotiation process and more than 75 meetings, the two parties are still far apart on outstanding issues. He said he found it very unlikely the teachers will reach a voluntary agreement with the government.

"The net zero mandate is a fundamental obstacle," concluded Hughes.

Abbott said the legislation should be drafted over the weekend and could be introduced in the B.C. legislature as early as the week of Feb. 27.

About 41,000 BCTF members have been without a contract since June 30, 2011. The teachers began refusing to supervise playgrounds, meet with administrators or prepare report cards in September in an effort to put pressure on negotiations.

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