B.C. teachers return to picket lines

Teachers ramp up pressure on government as beginning of school year approaches

VANCOUVER — Teachers across British Columbia were expected to be on picket lines beginning Monday in an attempt to increase pressure on the provincial government, but their union was saying little about it plans a week before school was scheduled to start.

Teachers have been on a full-scale strike since June, though the summer has been mostly devoid of formal negotiations and the two sides have acknowledged they remain far apart.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker used a union conference in Kamloops over the weekend to call on the government to enter into mediation immediately.

He said teachers would be out picketing in “full force” this week, but otherwise did not provide details. On Monday morning, the union did not respond to questions about what it had planned.

“We’ve been ready all summer. We’ve been ready all this past week despite being here in Kamloops,” Iker said on Sunday.

“My message to the minister today and his rhetoric of 24-7 bargaining is: let’s see it. How about tomorrow? Let’s get this deal done.”

Earlier this month, veteran mediator Vince Ready agreed to monitor the dispute between the BC Public Schools Employers’ Association and the BC Teachers’ Federation, and to enter into full mediation if that would be productive.

The two sides had agreed to speak publicly, but both Iker and Education Minister Peter Fassbender appear to have broken the agreement by speaking to media recently.

The school year is scheduled to start Sept. 2. B.C. School Trustees Association president Theresa Rezansoff said she’s hopeful that the teachers’ union and the employer will find common ground before then.

“There’s not a lot of time left,” Rezansoff said. “Schools will be able to open on Sept. 2 if a deal is reached.”

Both Iker and Fassbender have indicated they want classes to resume in September as scheduled, but Fassbender said late last week that the two sides are not close to an agreement.

The Liberal government has announced that if the teachers’ strike continues into the fall, it will give parents with children aged 13 and under $40 a day for each day of school missed to cover the costs of child care or tutoring.

The province’s 40,000 teachers staged several weeks of rotating strikes before launching a full-scale strike two weeks before the end of the school year.

The main issues in the dispute have been wages and teaching conditions, such as class size and class composition.

The government has said teachers’ wage increases must be affordable and in line with agreements signed by other public-sector employees.