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Teacher talks resume today

Jan 04 2012

B.C. teachers and their employers resume contract talks today with both sides professing hope that a new year will bring a new approach to negotiations.

Melanie Joy, who chairs the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, said she's hoping a recent agreement with school support staff will end the deadlock with teachers.

The association announced before Christmas that it had reached a tentative two-year agreement with 30,000 support workers without violating the B.C. government's wage freeze.

"Hopefully, the discussions will be a little more focused at the table after the holidays and after our support-staff announcement," Joy said. "We're hoping that maybe there might be some sort of change."

The teachers, however, say a deal is unlikely if government holds to its demands for a net-zero increase in compensation.

"There's been too much neglect of teachers and public education over the last decade," Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said Tuesday.

"There's been too much off-loaded onto the work of teachers. Class sizes have increased. Supports for children with special education needs have decreased. That's made the job untenable."

Lambert said the government needs to adjust its commitment to public education before a deal will get signed, and she's optimistic that will happen.

"It's a new year and we're newly resolved," she said.

The teachers have been without a contract since the end of the last school year. They began pressing their demands in the fall by refusing to do report cards, supervise playgrounds and meet with administrators, among other things.

Both teachers and employers say they want a signed deal rather than see government step in and legislate an agreement.

"I can't even guess whether or not the government will take that step," Joy said. "But we, as employers, are doing what we can to make it so that that doesn't happen, because a legislated deal doesn't help either party. It would be sure nice to sign that off without the government's legislation."

Lambert agreed, saying a legislated contract would only worsen relations between teachers and government.

"Do you really want to increase that distance?" she said. "I think not."

Lambert said Education Minister George Abbott frequently claims to respect teachers and the important work they do.

"The concrete evidence of that is a signed collective agreement," Lambert said. "It won't happen with a net-zero mandate. It has to happen with a revised mandate from government, a revised commitment to adequately fund public education and respect teachers."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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