More than 500 Nelson residents marched down Tuesday as part of the Parents Etc. for Public Education March on what was supposed to be the first day of public school classes.

Arbitration unlikely path to end teachers strike

Too risky for government as negotiators take different tacks on legal battle overhanging labour dispute

Provincial government negotiator Peter Cameron is panning the idea of binding arbitration to settle the B.C. teachers strike.

The idea, advanced by Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus, comes after a failed attempt over the weekend by veteran mediator Vince Ready to find common ground.

Cameron noted the government – which has already warned the teachers’ demands threaten to blow a massive hole in the provincial budget – would be empowering one person to force through a final decision that might be extremely costly.

“It doesn’t seem to be a good solution from our perspective,” he said.

Nor, he said, is it the optimum way to reach a result best for students in classrooms or that the two sides can live with.

“The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome,” Cameron said of arbitration. “And it involves a third party, who would likely be a labour relations person rather than an educator, making educational decisions.”

B.C. Teachers Federation vice-president Glen Hansman said the union “might be open” to arbitration but doesn’t expect any interest from the province.

Instead, he suggested a deal could be within reach if the province sweetened its offer for a $75-million Learning Improvement Fund to assist with special needs and drops its demand for an “escape clause” allowing either side to set aside a future appeal court decision it dislikes on class composition.

“The education minister is saying wait for the court case,” Hansman said. “We agree – we would be open to something interim and whatever the court decides we’ll live with it.”

Cameron argues there’s nothing wrong with negotiating a deal now on class size and composition and says that’s what in line with last January’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling against the government.

The ruling of Justice Susan Griffith stated in part that there was no guarantee language restored in the old contract would be “clad in stone, as it can and likely will need to be the subject of ongoing collective bargaining.”

Cameron argues the union now seems to not wish to bargain classroom conditions after winning the right to do exactly that.

“It’s the union that’s refusing to bargain a provision into the new agreement addressing class size and composition,” he said. “They want a vacant spot left for that in the hopes they get the old language back into the collective agreement and that it would carry forward.”

While the government has accused the union of demanding twice as much as other public sector unions when wages and benefits are counted together, Hansman said the province considers items such as preparation time for teachers to deal with special needs students to be benefits.

“The government definition of benefits is everything other than salary,” he said. “The term is being used quite broadly.”

Hansman said the union has carved $125 million from its demand for a fund to settle grievances and dropped some extended health benefit demands – such as demands for $30,000 in lifetime fertility treatments and prescribed massage or physiotherapy of up to $3,000 a year.

Also abandoned is a proposal  to remove the bottom step of the pay grid to improve pay for starting teachers, which Hansman described as an “agonizing” concession.

He also said the BCTF is open to looking at a shorter contract term if that gives the province more comfort.

Hansman said the union’s demand for eight per cent in pay hikes over five years still wouldn’t bring B.C. teachers to pay parity with any other province.

One big chunk of the union’s ask is a $5,000 signing bonus, which the province estimates would cost at least $150 million, in addition to the extra $166 million it says the union seeks in higher wages and benefits.

Just Posted

No more mobile vendors on Harrison beach

The approval of an updated business licence bylaw means Nolan Irwin is without a cart

Crown seeking 30 months for Abbotsford vehicle theft, flight from police, Chilliwack crash

Michael Joseph Hasell has 47 criminal convictions on his record in B.C. and Alberta

Harrison Festival releases 2019 line up

The 41st annual Harrison Festival of the Arts will be held from July 12 to 21

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select routes

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries to be sold on Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

Rainfall warning: Up to 70 mm expected across Fraser Valley

Environment Canada issued a weather warning heading into the long weekend

VIDEO: Agassiz, Harrison celebrate National Pet Day

From cats and dogs to lizards and chickens, residents showed off the animals that enrich their lives

Vaisakhi parade to fill Surrey streets Saturday: Everything you need to know

More than 500,000 people expected for one of the world’s largest Vaisakhi-related events

Three climbers presumed dead after avalanche in Banff National Park

One of the men is American and the other two are from Europe, according to officials

TSB issues two safety recommendations in probe of fatal B.C. train derailment

The train derailment killed three crew members on board

VIDEO: Trump tried to seize control of Mueller probe, report says

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday

Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire: police official

Investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral but can’t yet search charred interior

Whitecaps fans stage walkout over club’s response to allegations against B.C. coach

Soccer coach has been suspended by Coastal FC since February

Man in hospital after crash involving parked car in Vancouver

It is unclear what led to the collision involving a black Acura and a parked Land Rover

Elizabeth May’s B.C. wedding will be a ‘low carbon affair’ on Earth Day

Green party leader’s wedding party to depart in a cavalcade of electric cars

Most Read