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Teachers not in favour of premier's long-term labour deal

SURREY (NEWS1130) -The BC Teacher’s Federation says it doesn’t take into consideration items that are of priority to teachers.

“The capacity of the system has been robbed by this provincial government, you can’t say let’s now bring certainty and stability to a system that is in such disarray,” says BCTF President Susan Lambert.

The premier has introduced a strategy she feels could translate into long-term labour peace. It’s called “Working Together for Students” and in exchange for a 10-year labour deal, Christy Clark is putting the following goodies on the table:

– Allowing public school teachers a formal role in education policy decisions
– A voice in allocating a 100 million dollar Priority Education Investment Fund, which would kick in during the third year of this proposed labour deal
– What the government calls “salary certainty and fairness, by indexing public school teacher salaries to increases to wages in the public sector.”

Many groups like the BCTF say they were kept in the dark about this morning’s announcement; when prompted to respond to this, the premier side-stepped the question and said now that details are out, she just wants feedback “because we need to take the time to make sure the final product is the product of input.”

“No one will benefit from government trying to rush it through. We’re trying to get an agreement here,” Clark adds.

“If we want to reach a 10-year agreement [then] we need to sit down with the BC Teachers Federation and the other partners in the system and agree, that’s going to take some time,” Clark explains.

If the two sides can’t agree on a deal by mid-June, a mediator will step in, setting a deadline for July 25th.

“We want to do what’s best for students. It’s one of the reasons why I became a teacher. By all means, I want to make sure the students have a good time in school…. take the politics out of it… speak for students and the school system in British Columbia. You can’t help but say we need to engage in this conversation,” says Education Minister Don McRae.

After spending much of the last school year in job action, the BCTF agreed to a contract that will expire in June.

Vancouver School Board Chair Patti Bacchus regrets she had to hear about this through the media, instead of being consulted beforehand.

“I would hope that they would be working together. School boards are the employers in this relationship, we are the co-governors, and I think it’s important that we’re all on board, working together to find something that really work and be accepted by all the parties,” Bacchus explains.

“The timing is a bit surprising that the government would come out with its own version just as the two parties who have actually been working together have come [up] with an agreement, so I’m curious why this would be coming out at this time,” Bacchus questions.

Bacchus says the timing is interesting too, given that an “agreement in committee” on bargaining between the BC Public School Employers Association and the BCTF is headed for ratification.

How would the NDP handle the teachers situation if they were in power?  The party’s Education Critic Robin Austin says the NDP would have to fix years of damage done by the Liberals and in doing so, would initiate a better working relationship.

“I think we have to overcome all the animosity that has taken place over the last several years. I think when you are a government that passes unconstitutional laws, it makes it difficult to then turn the clock back,” he says.

Austin adds both sides need to avoid negotiating through the media.

There are some things in the deal he agrees with though, like bringing in an outside mediator if future negotiations hit a standstill.