National News

New teachers' proposal jumpstarts bargaining

By The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The British Columbia teachers' union presented a new contract proposal to the employer on Friday, kicking off an intense set of negotiations before a strike is planned for Tuesday.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation has said the package includes a lowered wage demand and other concessions, but no details were made public as both sides pushed to prevent the provincewide strike.

With the clock ticking down, Premier Christy Clark said she's optimistic about a settlement.

"I don't want to get my hopes up too high, but I believe it is possible that we can get an agreement at the bargaining table — perhaps even by the end of the weekend," Clark told reporters.

There was still no word Friday on whether a strike would affect summer school or exactly who would be marking provincial exams for Grades 10 to 12 students. A labour board ruling on Wednesday compelled teachers to do the work it deemed essential.

The union wants a wage hike in the range of 12 per cent over four years, while the government contends that spikes to more than 19 per cent when compounded, and including benefits.

The employers' association, meanwhile, has offered a 7.3-per-cent hike over six years, along with a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached before the end of June.

In letters posted on the government's website, Clark lays out the objectives to be achieved by her ministers, including Education Minister Peter Fassbender, over the coming year.

She said in the letters that the need to control spending in line with a balanced budget is the government's top priority.

The letter to Fassbender also called on him to achieve a new collective agreement with the teachers' union, leading to 10 years of labour stability in keeping with the party's campaign promise.

However, the letter is dated June 10 though the government dropped the 10-year contract proposal in May and replaced it with a six-year proposal.

Once a deal is reached, Fassbender will be asked to present cabinet with options on how to restructure collective bargaining with the teachers' union, according to the letter.

It also urged the implementation of previously committed tax credits for teachers who participate in extra-curricular activities and parents for back-to-school costs.

A special meeting of the Vancouver Board of Education approved a motion Friday urging the premier to meet with the president of the BC Teachers' Federation to resolve the impasse.

The board also called for a mediator to be included in negotiations and asked Clark to supply a "renewed mandate" to the government's agent to bargain class size and composition, a major stumbling block in negotiations so far.

A full-scale strike is scheduled for Tuesday. On Monday, schools will be closed as teachers meet for so-called study sessions.

Teachers' union president Jim Iker has said members will gather away from schools to review the latest bargaining proposals.

Negotiations began 16 months ago, and teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.

The government has said it will save about $60 million each week in teacher salaries if a strike proceeds.

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