B.C. Education Minister pessimistic about deal with teachers any time soon

The B.C. government is sticking to its promise of a net-zero contract with the province's teachers, even as negotiations drag on heading into a new school year.

The B.C. government is sticking to its promise of a net-zero contract with the province’s teachers, even as negotiations drag on heading into a new school year.

“There is no question in my mind and certainly no question in government’s mind that the net-zero mandate that has now been applied to about three-quarters of public servants in British Columbia will soon be applied to teachers,” education minister George Abbott told a group of reporters during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “From a budgetary perspective it’s going to be a zero-per-cent increase year-over-year. It’s not like government is being mean-spirited here. We don’t have a choice, we don’t have the dollars to deal with a wage increase for the teachers or for anyone else at this point.”

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) have been negotiating a new contract since the previous one expired in the spring. Earlier this summer the BCTF voted overwhelmingly in favour of a job action starting when students go back to school on Sept. 6 if there was no agreement reached.

The BCTF said the job action would begin with work-to-rule. Essentially, teachers would stop performing administrative duties like taking attendance and preparing report cards. They would also stop between class supervision.

Abbott said he was not optimistic about an agreement being reached any time soon. “I don’t want to be Polyanna-ish and indicate there’s going to be an agreement next week because I don’t believe there will be but I do hope the parties continue to work hard to try and reach an agreement.”

Anne Cooper, the superintendent of the Revelstoke School District, said supervision would be taken over by administrative staff.

“We’re going to organize to cover off the supervision,” she said. As for report cards, she said the district would come up with a plan for them later on in the school year.

When asked what the government would do in event of a strike, Minister Abbott did not rule out intervention.

“Should that eventuality occur we can look at the history of these things in the province and probably imagine what government wold do in response to that but I hope that’s a bridge we don’t have to cross,” he said.

Negotiations between the province and the teachers’ union has been notoriously acrimonious in the past. In 2005, the teachers engaged in an illegal 17-day strike that had to be ended by a court order.

“One doesn’t want to be overly pessimistic on these matters but I need to be realistic as well,” said Abbott. “I do hope the parties can reach an agreement and we can continue to build a quality education agreement across the province.”

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