B.C. teachers' strike pay running out; minister promises students will complete year

B.C. teachers’ strike pay running out; minister promises students will complete year

METRO VANCOUVER — B.C. teachers are being told by their union leaders that strike pay, which has been $50 per day, will run out by the end of this week.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation would not confirm this, but said teachers will be informed before voting next week on the full-scale strike about the amount of strike pay that is available.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Peter Fassbender promised B.C. parents and students that all provincial exams would happen and that students would get their final marks, even if teachers go on a full-scale strike before the end of the year.

He said Thursday he doesn’t know how he will make that happen, but he said it would happen nonetheless.

"The commitment, without any hesitation, is they will be able to finish their year, their exams, the marking of those exams — and that is not something that will be open to discussion," he told reporters.

Ministry staff and the teachers’ employer have started working out a plan for how they’ll minimize report card disruptions, though they hadn’t yet cemented the details, Fassbender said.

Vancouver School board chair Patti Bacchus doesn’t know how exams could possibly go ahead if teachers are on a full-scale strike.

"This terrifies us because they don’t seem to think about what happens in schools," Bacchus said. "Would students have to cross a picket line?"

The University of British Columbia will work closely with any students who are unable to complete provincial exams or get their final marks due to teachers’ job action, said Andrew Arida, UBC’s associate registrar, undergraduate admissions.

"If what is happening results in students not getting their final marks or writing provincial exams, we would make sure that didn’t negatively affect them," Arida said, adding that the vast majority of acceptance decisions to UBC have already been made and would not be affected by job action.

The VSB is also concerned that if a deal is not reached by the end of June, summer school programs will be affected.

"We have a lot of international students who come for the summer. It’s very competitive and if there is a strike or uncertainty we might lose them to other places," Bacchus said. "That is millions of dollars that would be lost."

She said it’s difficult to imagine a settlement being found during the summer because there won’t be pressure on either side to reach a deal.

Bacchus said districts have been told they will keep 20 per cent of strike savings while the Ministry of Education will keep the remaining 80 per cent.

Rotating strikes will continue next week, with a schedule expected out soon. Teachers across the province could be on a full-scale strike within the next two weeks, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president said Wednesday after the Labour Relations Board ruled a partial lockout and 10-per-cent pay cut would stand. The partial lockout restricts teachers from working during recess or lunch hours, or from arriving at school any earlier than 45 minutes before classes start, or staying 45 minutes after they end, and includes the pay cut.

At issue are wages, class size, class composition and the number of specialist teachers. The employer is offering a 7.3-per-cent wage increase over six years. Teachers on Tuesday reduced their ask by one per cent, now calling for 12.75 over four years.

The teachers could still refer the size of the pay cut to arbitration and all decisions of the LRB can be appealed within 15 days.

With a file from The Canadian Press

For more stories from the Vancouver Sun, click here.