Public school students across British Columbia were shut out of the classroom on Tuesday as a bitter dispute between the province’s striking teachers and the government continued into the new school year.
The teachers’ union and the government’s bargaining team barely spoke to each other during the summer, and despite a flurry of action over the holiday weekend in an attempt to get students back to school on time, negotiations broke down.
A mediator walked away from the bargaining table on Saturday, saying the two sides are just too far apart.
Both the BC Teachers’ Federation and the government have accused each other of refusing to budge on contract demands.
No new meetings have been scheduled, but union leader Jim Iker said he will head back to the bargaining table if government is willing to make compromises on class size and composition.
“It was unfortunate that we couldn’t get the deal on the weekend,” Iker told reporters this morning outside a Vancouver school. “It was obvious that government was not ready for full-scale mediation because they didn’t put one single penny towards meeting the needs of our students.”
The government took away the union’s right to bargain class size and composition in 2002 — a move the BC Supreme Court has since ruled twice was illegal.
The problem remains a sticking point in this round of negotiations as the government appeals the most recent ruling.
Striking teachers planned to rally outside the BC legislature and Education Minister Fassbender’s office today.
Fassbender asked the union last week to temporarily suspend strike action and put aside grievances related to the court decision while the two sides attempt to reach a negotiated settlement, but the union rejected the proposal.
“This is a government that has violated the supreme law of the country, the constitution, not once but twice,” said Iker.
He says “They were found to be bargaining in bad faith with us and now they say, ‘Trust us.’ We need more pressure on government and obviously this government just does not seem to care.”
Fassbender says the BC Public School Employers’ Association has already offered to “focus resources” on learning conditions.
He also said the union’s wage demands are unreasonable because they are higher than what other public sectors employees have settled for and will plunge the province into deficit.
He also announced on the weekend that parents with children aged 12 and under can start registering online for a 40-dollar-a-day childcare subsidy as the strike continues.
The province’s 40-thousand public school teachers walked off the job in June, first in a rotating, and then full-scale strike action two weeks before summer vacation.