Sides posturing

Finance Minister Mike de Jong warned the B.C. Teachers' Federation his government is not going to legislate an agreement

It has been a couple of weeks since we heard from the B.C. Liberal government and the British Columbia public school teachers regarding the status of negotiating a settlement, so teachers can get back to work in the fall.

On July 15, Finance Minister Mike de Jong warned the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) his government is not going to legislate an agreement to end the potential disruption of students heading back to school.

Murray Helmer, who is the local Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president, says de Jong’s warning doesn’t hold much water because teachers don’t want a legislated agreement.

The minister says history proves imposing an agreement doesn’t work and Helmer says it never works out in favour of the teachers.

So, both sides agree they don’t want an imposed agreement.

However, this appears to be the only point they agree on.

From there, both sides have dug their heels in and are waiting for the other side to blink.

They are still as far apart on wages and benefits as they were when a full-blown teachers’ strike shut down the public school system two weeks early in June.

The sticking point at the negotiating table is the provincial government wants to put both the teachers’ wage and benefits demands into one package, while the BCTF states they are two separate issues and they should be dealt with separately.

The BCTF won’t move on the benefits package and notes there’s no mention of class size and compensation in the collective agreement.

However, the teachers have come back to the table twice with lowered wage demands.

The government said it won’t move because every other public service union settled for agreements within the B.C. Liberals balanced-budget mandate.

There is a fear that if they signed a bigger deal with the teachers, the other public service sectors will want to invoke the “me-too” clause in their agreements to get a similar deal.

However, Helmer says that would only involve wage hikes, and the BCTF’s wage demand is lower than what CUPE got.

The real problem is the province doesn’t want to bend to the BCTF’s demands because it doesn’t want to get away from the wage scale it reached with other public sector unions because they don’t have the money.

However, the lack of money hasn’t stopped the B.C. Liberals from handing out some hefty raises to some of its top political staff members this year, according to NDP education critic Rob Fleming. The raises went from a high of 14.4 per cent to a low of 9.15 per cent.

Meanwhile, the tough talk and finger-pointing might dissipate and real bargaining may begin when we close in on September.