There's less than 12 hours to go before a major deadline in B.C. teacher contract negotiations expires, and neither the government nor the BC Teachers' Federation is talking about what happens if a deal isn't reached by midnight.
One thing that is certain is the $1,200 signing bonus promised to teachers by the BC Public School Employers' Association will be eliminated if both parties don't come to an agreement by tonight. The union, which has been without a contract since June 30, 2013, and hasn't had a wage increase since 2010, wasn't swayed by the offer and proposed a $5,000 signing bonus instead.
The union and the government, which sets the employers' bargaining mandate, stopped talking to media as of Thursday night. Both sides had previously vowed to bargain hard until midnight tonight. Tomorrow, July 1 is a government holiday, and staff for both the union and the employers' association will likely take the day off regardless of what happens at the table today.
Summer school is on, sort-of
Three days after the employers' association asked the provincial Labour Relations Board to make remedial summer school, year-round schooling, and school at healthcare and corrections facilities an essential service, the board ruled in favour of making remedial summer school an essential service on June 27 -- but only if it isn't possible for students to retake the course in the fall, ruling out many, if not all, of the courses offered.
Last week the union promised to picket summer schools, and the board's ruling allows for that provided picketers do not impede students and their working colleagues from entering schools.
The board did not rule on whether teachers should resume their duties at the province's five year-round elementary schools or at youth correctional or health facilities, because the union executive decided to go back to work at those schools for July and August regardless of whether a deal is reached today.
A union spokesperson said the decision has nothing to do with trying to head off a Labour Relations Board ruling on the matter. Instead, it was about fairness to the students still in school.
Because June 27 marked 14 days of missed classes due to walkouts and a teacher study session, and because most classes were supposed to end by June 26, most students missed a total of 13 days of school. But the small population of students where school is still in session would miss out on much more class time if the strike continues throughout the summer.
The union spokesperson wasn't sure how many teachers are affected by this decision, or if classes at health or corrections facilities even have summer sessions. The government confirmed this afternoon that the employers' association will lift the partial lockout on teachers at the five year-round schools this summer. This means there will be no limits on when teachers arrive and leave schools, or what they do with their lunch and recess. Plus teachers will again receive 100 per cent of their pay, which the employer had been cutting by 10 per cent since May 26 as a pressure tactic to get the union to end rotating walkouts.*
Far apart at the table
Before cutting off communication with the media, the union and its employer were still divided on the topics of wage increases, class size and composition, and specialist teacher staffing levels.
The last offer made public from the union was an eight per cent wage increase over five years, plus an annual increase equaling the difference between the anticipated and actual Gross Domestic Product, and a $5,000 signing bonus if a deal is reached by tonight.
They also want a $225-million annual workload fund of new money dedicated solely to hiring new teachers to help reduce class sizes and increase the number of specialist teachers like teacher librarians and counsellors in schools. If the upcoming appeal court decision restores class size and composition formulas from 2002, which the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 were unconstitutionally stripped from teachers' contracts, those formulas will replace this fund.
They're also seeking $225 million in new money to help conclude the ongoing contract negotiations in return for the union withdrawing all individual grievances filed against government regarding the 2002 contract stripping.
The employers' association is offering a seven per cent wage increase over six years or an 8.25 per cent increase over seven years, plus a $1,200 signing bonus that expires after today. They also pledge to make the Learning Improvement Fund, which injects $75 million a year into the education system to address issues including but not limited to class size and composition, part of the teachers' contract and completely devoted to those issues.
Class sizes would remain the same, with no cap on special needs students per class, but the employer is offering to create a joint fact-finding committee "to establish an improved base of information regarding non-enrolling teachers and other specialists."
*Story updated with government comment at 4 p.m. on June 30.
Read more: Education, BC Politics
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