After a week break for an arbitrator’s ruling on what can be negotiated locally, teachers and the province are back at the bargaining table this week.
“We’re at the table and proposals are still being tabled,” said School District 69 (Qualicum) board chair Eve Flynn, who is on the B.C. Public School Employer’s Association (BCPSEA) board that negotiates on behalf of the province with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).
She said the Bill 27 and 28 issue over what can be negotiated was separate from the ongoing contract negotiations.
While progress is slow, mostly dealing with smaller contract details, not getting to the big issues around money, Flynn said she is optimistic they are moving forward.
Debbie Morran, president of the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association, said they are happy with the arbitrator’s ruling over the weekend, listing 26 items that can be negotiated locally, but they are frustrated they have to go to an arbitrator to clarify decisions that had already been made.
Meanwhile, with teachers currently undertaking “teach only” job action, which they are calling “phase one,” Morran said they are “not optimistic” about the current negotiations, but are “still hopeful.”
Flynn said two-thirds of the province’s public employees have already settled contracts under the tough “net zero mandate.” The mandate requires any public service budget increases to be offset by other cuts to balance out to no overall increase.
Flynn said there have been some good creative solutions such as the BC Hospital Employees Union which rolled back starting wages and benefits to free up wages for senior employees.
Morran said the nurses actually got an increase, so she didn’t feel it’s a valid comparison.
While she hopes they can negotiate a contract with the BCTF, Flynn points out that the latest contract was the first in 12 years that was negotiated instead of legislated.
The BCTF will not say exactly what “phase two” job action would be, partly because any escalation would require a Labour Relations Board ruling since teaching is an essential service in B.C.
The last time the teachers went on strike, in 2005, it lasted two weeks and the schools managed to catch back up by the end of the year.