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BCTF, government reach tentative bargaining deal

The BC Teachers' Union executive is recommending locals accept the current collective agreement offer from the provincial government. But this doesn't mean the end of tension between the two parties as the union announced yet another court challenge against government legislation today.

The tentative agreement includes no salary improvements, but does increase bereavement leave to up to eight weeks partially paid, and unpaid discretionary leave for up to three days and unpaid family leave for up to five days. A retroactive agreement to July 1, 2011, it expires June 30, 2013. Lambert called the changes to leave a "modest improvement," but says the most important part was what government didn't include.

"But I think the most significant thing was that government was forced to take off the table the punitive legislations that Minister Abbott and the Premier consistently and constantly threatened to bring into being," Lambert told the media during a press conference this morning.

Lambert told the media the threatened legislation included the elimination of seniority rights among members of the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF), lack of transparency in layoff and recall of teachers, as well as loss of autonomy in professional development.

This is the third collective agreement signed between the teachers' union and the government since provincial bargaining was introduced under the New Democratic Party government in 1993. The 60 BCTF locals and school districts will vote on Thursday and Friday on whether to accept the deal. Results are expected Friday evening.

During a conference call with reporters this morning, Premier Christy Clark congratulated everyone who participated in the bargaining process, including government.

"We achieved this in a zero-zero mandate, which protects tax payers, and one that makes sure that we are doing it within our balanced budget plan," she said.

In that same conference, Minister George Abbott said "This has come together to the surprise of many people, including me."

The conference call happened before the BCTF announced they would be taking the government to court again, this time over Bill 22, The Education Improvement Act. The BCTF claims under the Bill the government engaged in bad faith bargaining by requiring a collective agreement meet the net-zero mandate.

Lambert told the media the union wants government to put back the $3.3 billion they have cut from education over the last decade.

"This civil claim is aimed at getting our rights back," she says. "Yes, the public education system should get money back. We're asking for smaller class sizes, we're asking for full-time a library in every school, counselling services for kids."

This is the second civil suit the BCTF has filed in the past week. On June 19 the BCTF announced it was talking the government back to court over Bills 27/28 in December, which Lambert estimates the union has spent over $1 million battling in court for the last decade.

The bills, introduced under then-Education Minister Christy Clark, removed class size and composition, as well as teacher-to-student ratios, from the collective bargaining process. Last year the BC Supreme Court ruled the bills unconstitutional. Bill 22 replaced those bills, but the union is upset that class size and composition won't be part of negotiations until the next round in 2013.

The union was also waiting for the BC Supreme Court to rule on the appointment of Charles Jago as mediator during the legislated mediation between the teachers and government. Lambert says she's been informed that case has been rendered "moot" by accepting the latest collective agreement offer.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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