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Ready enters talks as BCTF mulls two-week strike truce

B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender. - Black Press file photo
B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

The province has proposed a two-week truce with striking teachers to at least allow B.C. schools to reopen as scheduled next week while a mediated settlement is pursued.

The idea of a cooling-off period allowing classes to start while mediated talks proceed was put to B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker by Education Minister Peter Fassbender and government negotiator Peter Cameron.

There was no deal between the two sides but both sides said progress was made in the 90-minute meeting Wednesday afternoon and mediator Vince Ready agreed to begin exploratory talks Thursday.

The BCTF has not yet responded to the proposal but Iker indicated he needed union membership approval to halt picketing and urged full mediation to begin immediately.

Fassbender told Black Press he's surprised and disappointed the union head wouldn't quickly agree to a strike suspension.

"I had hoped, maybe unrealistically, that Mr. Iker was in a position to agree that there was nothing there that compromised their ability to negotiate with a mediator in the room, that we could see school commence on Tuesday so that students can learn and teachers can be paid," the minister said.

"We are just asking them to voluntarily stand down and let classes start while the parties are in mediation."

The B.C. Public School Employers Association would also suspend lockout activity if the truce goes ahead.

Ready is only expected to enter full mediation if he decides the two sides get close enough to put a deal in reach.

Fassbender's proposal also calls on the union to set aside potential grievances arising from the last court ruling on class size and composition, now under appeal by the province.

He said said that would leave the issue – potentially a liability of nearly $250 million a year for the province – to the court appeal.

Fassbender said setting aside the grievances isn't a precondition for mediation but said he believed doing so would allow focused talks on the key issues – wages, class size and composition – and potentially get the sides into the settlement zone Ready requires.

Fassbender insisted government won't legislate an end to the dispute.

"Legislation has been the pattern in the past and it has not resulted in stability. It has actually created uncertainty and instability and that's why we are not prepared to do it."

B.C. School Trustees Association president Teresa Rezansoff called on both sides to move from their positions to put students first and ensure schools open Tuesday.

She said the BCTF compensation demand must come closer to what other public sector unions have accepted and the government should plow strike savings into schools rather than redirecting it to parents.

"The money for the proposed $40-a-day subsidy for parents would be better spent on students in schools," Rezansoff said in an open letter.

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