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Teachers' union prepares to fight wage freeze

By the end of June this year, when contracts for BC's 41,000 public school teachers expire, the province's educators are hoping to reverse two key policies of the Liberal government, its removal of class room size and class composition from collective bargaining and its insistence on "zero net" as its bargaining position on wages for civil servants.

In a press release issued from the BC Teachers' Federation annual meeting in Victoria, Federation president Susan Lambert said that more than 96 per cent of surveyed members believe that class size and composition are of critical importance.

"This presents an enormous challenge, since the Campbell Liberals legislated away the right to negotiate the very items teachers consider most important," Lambert said, adding that the BCTF is awaiting a Supreme Court decision on its charter challenge of that legislation.

Wages will be an issue in teacher contract negotiations as well. Lambert noted that during the last five years BC teachers wage levels have fallen from third to eighth in Canada.

"We believe BC teachers deserve salary commensurate with teachers in other provinces, and we know from our public polling that most British Columbians agree," Lambert said.

BC teacher wages are 12.5 per cent behind those made by teachers in Toronto and 19.5 per cent behind what Edmonton teachers make, according to the union, which has named wage parity with Ontario and Alberta teachers as a key bargaining goal during this year's negotiations

According to a bargaining bulletin posted on the BCTF website and dated January 25, "Teachers need and deserve to be paid fairly and in keeping with their colleagues in the rest of Canada. We have been subjected to government wage freezes and legislated settlements for over a decade. We cannot allow the decline in our salaries to continue."

On Monday, Lambert told the Vancouver Sun that the government's "net-zero" mandate for provincial civil servants was "just not realistic." She said teachers were asking the government "to revisit their mandate to ensure that this round of bargaining is productive and there's a satisfactory conclusion."

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for The Tyee.

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