Education Minister Peter Fassbender is disobeying the media blackout agreed to when mediator Vince Ready began monitoring the labour situation involving teachers and government negotiators, says the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
Fassbender has been talking to media outlets this week about aspects of the ongoing teachers’ strike.
“It is unhelpful that the minister is again playing politics in the media instead of allowing bargaining to resume behind closed doors,” union president Jim Iker said Thursday in a statement.
“It shows a lack of integrity and highlights the government’s ongoing attempts to derail meaningful negotiations.
“Today, I am calling on Peter Fassbender to honour the media blackout and instruct [the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association] to immediately begin intensive mediation with the assistance of Vince Ready.”
He said the BCTF bargaining team is ready to do just that. “More than anything, teachers want to be back in schools on Sept. 2 with smaller classes, and more support for all students so we can give B.C. children the education they deserve.”
Teachers in the public-school system have been on full-scale strike since June 17. The move came after three weeks of one-day rotating strikes.
The BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which negotiates on behalf of the province, had their first face-to-face meeting since June on Aug. 8.
Fassbender told the Times Colonist that he has not contravened the blackout. “I am not getting into any details on bargaining, other than those things that have been out there publicly already, and our desire to get a negotiated settlement and to get back to the table as soon as possible.”
He noted that bargaining can’t happen this weekend because BCTF officials are scheduled to attend a conference in Kamloops. “We hope we can get back at it next week.”
The public is understandably looking for answers about the strike, Fassbender said. “I get everybody I meet on the street or otherwise saying: ‘What is going to happen? What do we do if school doesn’t go back?’ And I can’t just say, ‘Well, just keep your fingers crossed until we get it done and then we’ll tell you.’ ”
Questions like those are part of the impetus behind the launch of a website (bcparentinfo.ca) this week, Fassbender said.
The site includes details about the government’s plan to pay them $40 a day for each child, should the strike continue past Sept. 2, the day the school year is scheduled to begin. The money is intended for care or educational programs.
“I’m not wanting it to be characterized as a perspective that we’re not going to get a settlement,” Fassbender said. “But we have to be fair to parents to say, ‘Here’s some of the options available to you if it does not come to a negotiated settlement. And because we are not going to legislate a settlement, then you need to be prepared.’ ”