Hopes of B.C. teachers reaching a new contract deal with the province before the start of the school year have hit a snag.
The BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) announced Friday the mediated talks with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) have been paused until Sept. 23, after a recommendation from the mediator.
“The mediator advised the BCPSEA and BCTF bargaining teams that in his view there are too many outstanding proposals between the parties and further, that both sides have the right to negotiate resolution to those issues,” the BCPSEA said in an email to Global News.
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The two sides are being advised to meet again with the mediator on Sept. 23 “to determine if a path forward can be identified,” the BCPSEA added.
In a statement sent to members, BCTF president Teri Mooring said the break will give local teachers’ associations time to meet and discuss the talks.
She added no vote on job action has been authorized “at this time.”
“It’s been a long haul so far, but our Bargaining Team is doing great work,” Mooring said. “We’ll keep pushing hard together to get a negotiated settlement.”
Teachers have been negotiating a new contract throughout the summer. A mediator was brought in to help move the talks along earlier this month.
The pause in talks means teachers will enter the new school year Tuesday under their old contract, despite it expiring in June.
At issue is the teachers’ efforts to retain language around class size and composition, which was restored to how it was written in 2002 by a B.C. Supreme Court decision in 2016.
The BCTF has accused the NDP government of asking them for concessions to some of that language, despite supporting the Supreme Court decision while in opposition.
An ad campaign on the BCTF’s social media channels this summer has taken the province to task for their alleged attempts to “roll back” the decision.
“The BCTF will continue its work to pressure the provincial government to give the BC Public School Employers’ Association a workable set of directives,” Mooring said in her statement.
“That means ensuring the concessions come off the table and enough new funding is made available to ensure classroom conditions are improved and teachers’ low wages are addressed.”
In a statement to Global News Friday, Education Minister Rob Fleming said he’s hopeful both sides can reach a fair deal, adding the ministry respects the Supreme Court decision.
“This pause will give both sides time to reflect and let the school system focus on getting kids back into the classroom,” Fleming said.
“Almost 70 per cent of the public sector — more than 226,000 unionized employees — have been able to get a fair deal, and we believe teachers can too through the give and take at the table.”
Fleming also pointed to one option proposed by the BCPSEA, which allegedly included a two per cent wage increase each year for three years and no change to the language on class sizes and composition.
Fleming has promised the start of the school year will be “normal” despite the ongoing talks, and has expressed confidence a deal can be reached soon.
—With files from Janet Brown, Keith Baldrey and Richard Zussman
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