National News

B.C. threatens teacher wage rollback

By Keven Drews and Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The B.C. government is threatening to cut teachers' wages by five per cent if a new contract agreement isn't reached by the end of the school year, but the union representing those teachers vows it will take that threat to the Labour Relations Board.

Peter Cameron, chief negotiator of the BC Public School Employers' Association, the organization representing the provincial government, also said Friday that teachers will receive a $1,200 signing bonus if both sides reach an agreement by the end of June.

The incentives and disincentives placed on the table by the government were the latest details to emerge from a year of contentious labour relations between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the provincial government that included a 89 per cent strike vote and involved a B.C. Supreme Court judgment.

Both sides remain firmly divided over issues related to wages, class size, the composition of those classes and the length of the contract term.

"The proposal we have on the table to try and get a settlement, and the disincentives that we are putting in place are all aimed at getting a deal, and in fact the disincentives will rise if there's further job action," said Cameron. "So if they do move to Stage 2 we will, it's pretty well definite that we'll have a further response to that."

The purpose of the government's actions, he added, is not to try and provoke further strike action but to "provoke a settlement."

Both sides were back at the bargaining table Friday, and B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said his members will deal with the threat of the five per cent pay cut at the Labour Relations Board.

He said the government still hasn't addressed issues related to class size and composition and specialist teachers, and the government's offer of a 6.5-per-cent pay hike over six years isn't enough. On Thursday, Education Minister Peter Fassbender announced the provincial government was dropping its demand of a 10-year contract.

"They need to put some proposals to get us closer to a deal, including preparation time," said Iker. "Bargaining is about compromise, and we want a compromise.

But Cameron said teachers are demanding a pay raise of 15.9 per cent over four years. With increased benefits and other factors taken into consideration, the total compensation package demanded by teachers is about 21 per cent, he added.

"We need to see some movement from the union now to come into the ball park because they're at this point still far, far away from the settlement pattern of all the other unions."

On Thursday, the B.C. government and the 11-union, 47,000-strong Facilities Bargaining Association announced a tentative deal that would see unionized workers receive a 5.5 per cent over five years.

The teachers have been without a contract since last June. In early March, some 26,051 members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action, and in April, the union began Stage 1 of its job action.

Teachers stopped supervising students outside the classroom or communicating in writing with administrators, which prompted about a dozen school districts to cancel recess.

A B.C. Supreme Court decision in January awarded the federation $2 million in damages and declared the province's removal of class size and composition from contract negotiations unconstitutional.

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