B.C. teachers’ strike pay running out; minister promises students will complete year

By Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun June 5, 2014

 

B.C. teachers' strike pay running out; minister promises students will complete year   Teachers have been on rotating strikes since last week, closing all schools in the province for one day each week. The teachers’ employer has initiated a partial lockout and a pay cut for teachers who participate in the job action. Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK , THE CANADIAN PRESS

Teachers are being told by their union leaders that strike pay, which has been $50 per day, will run out by the end of this week.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation would not confirm this, but said teachers will be told how much strike pay is available before they vote next week on the full-scale strike.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Peter Fassbender promised B.C. parents and students that all provincial exams would happen and that students would get their final marks, even if teachers go on a full-scale strike before the end of the school year.

“I don’t have the answer how that’s all going to be done ­— our staff is working on that now (and the employer) is looking at all of the options — but the commitment without any hesitation is they will be able to finish their year, their exams and the marking of those exams. That is not something that will be open for discussion. We are going to make sure that happens,” Fassbender said.

Vancouver school board chairwoman Patti Bacchus doesn’t know how exams could possibly go ahead if teachers are on a full-scale strike.

“This terrifies us because whenever they come up with a plan over there, they don’t seem to think about what happens in schools,” Bacchus said. “We have no idea how they think this would even happen. … Would students have to cross a picket line?”

If the employer wants to make exams or report cards part of the essential services order, it would have to apply to the Labour Relations Board to vary the terms of the order, said Fiona McQuarrie, a business professor with University of the Fraser Valley. She said both sides would be given the opportunity to argue their case and that a decision would likely be made within 48 hours.

“I think it’s really a tricky time right now for both parties,” McQuarrie said, adding the B.C. Federation of Labour or the Canadian Labour Congress might have reserve funds that could help support the striking teachers.

The B.C. Federation of Labour has not been approached by the BCTF for financial support, Jim Sinclair, B.C. Federation of Labour president, said in an emailed statement.

“We are in complete solidarity with teachers in their fight for the future of public education and will continue to do everything possible to ensure they are successful,” Sinclair said. “The real question is when will the government come to the table with the necessary funding to settle the dispute.”

Students who might be worried about their university applications can rest assured, at least if they’re heading to the University of British Columbia.

UBC will work closely with any students who are unable to complete provincial exams or get their final marks due to teachers’ job action, said Andrew Arida, UBC’s associate registrar, undergraduate admissions.

“If what is happening results in students not getting their final marks or writing provincial exams, we would make sure that didn’t negatively affect them,” Arida said, adding that the vast majority of acceptance decisions to UBC have already been made and would not be affected by job action.

The VSB is also concerned that if a deal is not reached by the end of June, summer school programs will be affected.

“We have a lot of international students who come in the summer. It’s a very competitive international market … and if there is a strike or uncertainty we might lose them to other places,” Bacchus said, adding that if the uncertainty continues into the fall, it could be “millions of dollars that would be lost.”

She said it’s difficult to imagine a settlement being reached during the summer because there won’t be pressure on either side.

Bacchus said districts have been told they will keep 20 per cent of strike savings while the Ministry of Education will keep the remaining 80 per cent.

Rotating strikes will continue on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week and teachers across the province could be on a full-scale strike within the next two weeks, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said Wednesday.

Teachers were dealt a blow Wednesday, when the Labour Relations Board ruled a partial lockout and 10-per-cent pay cut would stand. The partial lockout restricts teachers from working during recess or lunch hours, or from arriving at school any earlier than 45 minutes before classes start, or staying 45 minutes after they end, and includes the pay cut.

At issue are wages, class size, class composition and the number of specialist teachers. The employer is offering a 7.3-per-cent wage increase over six years. Teachers on Tuesday reduced their wage demand by one per cent, now calling for 9.75 plus a portion of cost of living over four years.

The teachers could still refer the size of the pay cut to arbitration and all decisions of the LRB can be appealed within 15 days.

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