VANCOUVER — The contract dispute between British Columbia’s teachers and the province is escalating, with government negotiators responding to the teachers’ strike plans with a partial lockout and each side accusing the other of dragging students into the middle of messy negotiations.
The latest move came from government negotiators, who informed the union that teachers would be partially locked out as of next Monday.
Under the terms of the lockout, teachers wages will be cut, there will be restrictions on the amount of time they can be at school, and they will be forced to stay home entirely for several days at the end of June.
The lockout provisions begin the same day the province’s 41,000 public school teachers plan to stage rotating, one-day strikes over four days in the province’s 60 school districts.
BC Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker painted a dire picture of exams left unmarked, student activities cancelled and graduation ceremonies in jeopardy — all of which he laid at the feet of Liberal Premier Christy Clark.
“The premier, who once promised to put families first and who just (Wednesday) said that children should not be put in the middle, is launching significant disruptions to our education system,” Iker told a news conference Thursday at the union’s offices in Vancouver.
“This government is so desperate to attack teachers that it is putting student academics and extracurricular activities at risk.”
Teachers want higher wages along with commitments to make classes smaller and increase the number of specialists in schools — which the province has warned would cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.
The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which bargains on behalf of the government, sent the union a letter Wednesday outlining terms of the lockout.
The letter says salaries will be reduced by five per cent as of Monday, but that will increase to 10 per cent if the teachers follow through with their plan to walk off the job. Teachers will be forbidden from working during lunch and recess, and they can only arrive at school 45 minutes before classes start and must leave 45 minutes after classes are finished.
High school teachers will be locked out completely on June 25 and 26, while elementary school teachers will join them for one day on June 27.
Iker said the restrictions on when teachers can be at school will make participating in extra curricular activities impossible. He also noted Grade 10 math students and Grade 11 social studies students are scheduled to write final exams on June 24 and the lockout will mean teachers won’t be at school to mark those exams for the rest of that week.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender has suggested the teachers are exaggerating the potential impact of the lockout.
Fassbender posted several updates to his Twitter account Wednesday evening, insisting the lockout does not specifically target extracurricular activities. He did not clarify what would happen if such activities extend longer than 45 minutes after classes finish.
He also said school administrators can work with parents to ensure graduation ceremonies go ahead as planned.
Union members voted 89 per cent in favour of striking in March. Teachers have already stopped supervising students outside the classroom or communicating in writing to administrators.
The latest government wage offer added up to 6.5 per cent over six years, followed by indexed increases.
The province says the teachers are asking for a pay raise of 15.9 per cent over four years, but with increased benefits and other provisions, the government says the total would be about 21 per cent.
The union also wants significant changes to reduce class size, change class composition rules, and increase the number of specialists in place to work with students.