VICTORIA â€” The B.C. government is backing away from demands that the provinceâ€™s teachers sign a new 10-year contract and is instead offering a shorter term with a signing bonus if a deal can be reached quickly.
B.C. Teachersâ€™ Federation president Jim Iker, who is also the unionâ€™s chief negotiator, said itâ€™s a welcome move but just one step toward a new contract.
â€œTeachers will be relieved to see it off the table,â€ said Iker. â€œIt was unfair, unreasonable and an unworkable proposal from the beginning. It was more about partisan politics and electioneering.
â€œWeâ€™ve been clear that we want a settlement that is fair to our teachers and provides better supports for our students.â€
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he and Premier Christy Clark have heard opposition from the BCTF to a 10-year contract and the government will introduce a new bargaining mandate to teachers today.
â€œOne of the major elements is that weâ€™re prepared to negotiate the first step to a decade of labour peace by putting a six-year term on the table,â€ said Fassbender.
â€œThe second thing weâ€™re doing is putting a time-limited signing bonus on the table as well so we clearly show we want an agreement. We want that agreement before the end of the school year. We think itâ€™s critical for students, parents, teachers, trustees, everyone to know that we can look forward to labour peace come September.â€
The move comes as the BCTF and government appeared set to dig in on a lengthy dispute over a new collective agreement.
B.C.â€™s 41,000 teachers began the initial stages of limited job action in April by not supervising students outside the classroom and not performing administrative duties.
The government has responded by threatening to force the teachers federation to pay the full cost of its benefits during job action, which could cost approximately $5 million a month.
Clarkâ€™s Liberals campaigned in last Mayâ€™s provincial election on negotiating a 10-year contract with teachers. Fassbender said thatâ€™s still the goal, but it can also be accomplished with a six-year deal and then immediate negotiations on reforming the bargaining system to try to extend labour peace to a full decade.
The signing bonus amount and exact deadline wonâ€™t be revealed until the governmentâ€™s chief negotiator, Peter Cameron, tables the offer to the BCTF today, said Fassbender.
â€œThis isnâ€™t the end of negotiations, but it is a clear signal on behalf of the premier, myself and government that we want a deal,â€ said Fassbender. â€œWe want it before the end of the school year.â€
Iker said he hopes the government comes to the table with new proposals that address the issues of smaller class sizes for students, class composition guarantees and minimum levels of specialist teachers who work one-on-one.
Iker said the union has already moved from its initial support for a three-year contract to a four-year agreement. â€œWeâ€™re closer.â€
Iker said he couldnâ€™t comment on the proposed signing bonus because he hasnâ€™t seen it. â€œ(Today) weâ€™ll be at the bargaining table and weâ€™ll take a look at it.â€
However, he added, itâ€™s only one factor. â€œThis government is still pushing zeros, a non-retroactive increase in year one and another zero in year two. Weâ€™ve just come off two legislated zeros.
â€œWeâ€™re open to compromise. Bargaining is about moving forward, not backward.â€
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