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Judge finds no ground for teacher mediation
A B.C. Supreme Court justice has concluded the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the B.C. government are too far apart on wages and working conditions for mediation to be effective.
The B.C. Public School Employers' Association and the BCTF confirmed Wednesday that Justice Stephen Kelleher has taken part in "exploratory" talks in recent days to seek an end to the teacher strike that wiped out the last two weeks of the school year.
"He had some exploratory discussions with the parties and determined that mediation is not indicated at this time," said an agreed statement by both parties.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the BCTF's total compensation demands are still more than twice what other government unions have settled for.
The union's benefit demands alone represent an additional $225 million a year, Fassbender said. Those include increases to preparation time, pregnancy and parental leave, extended health and dental and substitute teacher compensation.
"There is no process and no mediator that can bridge this gap at this time," Fassbender said. "To pretend otherwise only raises false expectations and serves to delay the tough decisions the BCTF executive needs to make to get to an affordable agreement."
BCTF president Jim Iker said the government placed unacceptable pre-conditions on wage negotiations going to mediation.
"At this point, with the government maintaining entrenched positions that are unfair and unreasonable, mediation will not be able to move forward," Iker said. "We will keep the lines of communication open in July to restart bargaining if the government is ready to make a real effort and bring the necessary funding to the table."
BCPSEA has proposed a 7% pay increase over six years, plus a $1,200 signing bonus with a deadline that expired June 30. The BCTF has countered 8% over five years with a proposed $5,000 bonus, to make up for a year the union has worked under an expired contract.
BCPSEA has calculated the cost of the union's position on class size and composition at $1.67 billion. That dispute has been the subject of a series of court actions and the B.C. Court of Appeal is expected to rule on it in the fall.
Fassbender said the latest offer is to guarantee $75 million in each year of a new contract for special needs support.