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BCTF spurns government 'peace' offer

B.C. Teachers
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert
— image credit: Vancouver METRO

The B.C. government's proposed new bargaining framework for teachers has been rejected by the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae unveiled their proposal Thursday, calling it a new path to a 10-year agreement to "labour peace" with the province's 40,000 public school teachers.

The proposed framework calls for pay increases based on an average of nurses, post-secondary faculty and other government employees, and a separate "education policy council" to administer funds for classroom support.

Clark and McRae stressed that it would offer teachers a formal role in policy decisions, and a voice in allocating a "priority education investment fund" that would rise to $100 million by the third year.

BCTF president Susan Lambert said the proposal was shared with her Wednesday, and she considers it a "non-starter." Removing class size and special needs support issues from union negotiations is unacceptable, she said.

"It's quite ludicrous that government would hold out a 10-year deal in trade for giving up bargaining rights that we have fought long and hard for in the courts," Lambert told CKNW radio. "We fought a 10-year battle to achieve a decision that, yes, teachers have a constitutional right to bargain working conditions."

The union has another legal action in process, based on a precedent-setting ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that overturned parts of legislation passed by the B.C. Liberal government in 2002. That case is to go to B.C. Supreme Court next fall.

Clark said the intent is to elevate discussion, not to achieve a long-term deal before the May election.

"It's not about helping the government, and it's not about helping the union. It's about helping the kids," Clark said. "I know that's a culture shift for many of the parties around the table, including the government, but we have to do it."

Lambert said the timing of the government's announcement is surprising, since the BCTF and B.C. Public School Employers' Association have just reached their own tentative agreement on  new bargaining framework.

To be voted on by executives of the school district bargaining agent and the BCTF, it includes a shared method for calculating costs. Last year's teacher strike was marked by huge discrepancies in the costs of raises and other bargaining proposals.

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