Premier seeks peace with teachers

Premier Christy Clark wants a 10-year agreement with the teachers' union to end bitter conflicts

Public sector union members and NDP MLAs join striking teachers at a rally at the B.C. legislature in March

Public sector union members and NDP MLAs join striking teachers at a rally at the B.C. legislature in March

Premier Christy Clark has announced a review of teacher bargaining, with a goal of reaching a 10-year agreement that would put an end to decades of battles with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

Clark and Education Minister Don McRae acknowledged at a Vancouver news conference Wednesday that changing the culture of confrontation between the B.C. government and teachers won’t be easy, and vowed to put even the most contentious issues on the table for discussion. That includes class size and special needs support, key issues in contract disputes and court actions in recent years.

“Our first goal is long-term labour stability with teachers in British Columbia,” Clark said. “Our second goal is to improve how government interacts and works with the BCTF. These two goals will require compromise on all sides of the table, including ours.”

BCTF president Susan Lambert said she welcomes the review of the bargaining structure, but is skeptical about the latest promise of meaningful consultation.

“It seems to me that talk of a 10-year contract is putting the cart before the horse,” Lambert said. “There seem to be conclusions drawn that would be properly a product of the bargaining table and not a product of a discussion on the bargaining structure.”

The offer comes as the BCTF continued a court challenge to a two-year wage freeze that extends until June 2013. After a year of fruitless negotiations and work-to-rule by teachers, the union membership endorsed the two-year contract extension reached in June with government-imposed mediator Charles Jago.

McRae said the review will take advantage of work currently being done by a task force of school trustees, and two previous reviews completed by independent mediators.

In his 2007 report, mediator Vince Ready said the union and the province’s bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, need a system for agreeing on the financial costs of various proposals before they can hope to settle contracts.

McRae said he has talked with Lambert about the proposal, and he wants to have consultations with teachers, trustees, parent advisory councils and administrators complete by the end of November.

“If there are policy changes or legislative amendments that we need to make, we want to get this work done before bargaining resumes next spring,” McRae said.

Surrey North Delta Leader