Negotiators are slated to resume talks next week in an effort to resolve the B.C. public school teachers strike before a new school year begins in September.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker and Peter Cameron, lead negotiator for the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, released a joint statement Friday that that the two sides will meet Aug. 8.
It will be the first face-to-face bargaining session since June, when a strike by about 41,000 teachers cut short the school year.
“It’s a positive development from our perspective,” said BCTF vice-president Glen Hansman. “We’ve been ready, willing and able all July to get mediator or face-to-face talks without a mediator going.” He expressed hope that the two sides will be able to use the rest of August to hammer out a deal before Labour Day.
“It would be great to have something that both parties can ratify the first week of school without things spilling into another school year.”
Cameron was unavailable for comment.
The two sides are within a percentage point on wages, but remain far apart on benefits, as well as issues around class size and composition.
The provincial government has characterized the union’s demands as “unaffordable,” while the BCTF has criticized the government for failing to commit enough resources to resolving the dispute.
Teachers began a full-scale strike on June 17 following three weeks of rotating strikes.
Hansman said there is no connection between the scheduled resumption of bargaining, and Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s announcement Thursday that the government will give parents $40-a-day for every child under 13 should the strike continue into September.
Hansman described the subsidy as a “red herring” that shifts the focus away from the need for a negotiated settlement.
“It would be great, in our view, if they focused what they’re doing on actually committing some resources to the [bargaining] table, so we can move on,” he said.
De Jong made clear Thursday that the government has no intention of recalling the legislature early in order to impose a deal on teachers. Like Hansman, he expressed hope that a negotiated deal can be reached by September, making payments to parents unnecessary.