More than 500 Nelson residents marched down Tuesday as part of the Parents Etc. for Public Education March on what was supposed to be the first day of public school classes.

Arbitration unlikely path to end teachers strike

Too risky for government as negotiators take different tacks on legal battle overhanging labour dispute

Provincial government negotiator Peter Cameron is panning the idea of binding arbitration to settle the B.C. teachers strike.

The idea, advanced by Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus, comes after a failed attempt over the weekend by veteran mediator Vince Ready to find common ground.

Cameron noted the government – which has already warned the teachers’ demands threaten to blow a massive hole in the provincial budget – would be empowering one person to force through a final decision that might be extremely costly.

“It doesn’t seem to be a good solution from our perspective,” he said.

Nor, he said, is it the optimum way to reach a result best for students in classrooms or that the two sides can live with.

“The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome,” Cameron said of arbitration. “And it involves a third party, who would likely be a labour relations person rather than an educator, making educational decisions.”

B.C. Teachers Federation vice-president Glen Hansman said the union “might be open” to arbitration but doesn’t expect any interest from the province.

Instead, he suggested a deal could be within reach if the province sweetened its offer for a $75-million Learning Improvement Fund to assist with special needs and drops its demand for an “escape clause” allowing either side to set aside a future appeal court decision it dislikes on class composition.

“The education minister is saying wait for the court case,” Hansman said. “We agree – we would be open to something interim and whatever the court decides we’ll live with it.”

Cameron argues there’s nothing wrong with negotiating a deal now on class size and composition and says that’s what in line with last January’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling against the government.

The ruling of Justice Susan Griffith stated in part that there was no guarantee language restored in the old contract would be “clad in stone, as it can and likely will need to be the subject of ongoing collective bargaining.”

Cameron argues the union now seems to not wish to bargain classroom conditions after winning the right to do exactly that.

“It’s the union that’s refusing to bargain a provision into the new agreement addressing class size and composition,” he said. “They want a vacant spot left for that in the hopes they get the old language back into the collective agreement and that it would carry forward.”

While the government has accused the union of demanding twice as much as other public sector unions when wages and benefits are counted together, Hansman said the province considers items such as preparation time for teachers to deal with special needs students to be benefits.

“The government definition of benefits is everything other than salary,” he said. “The term is being used quite broadly.”

Hansman said the union has carved $125 million from its demand for a fund to settle grievances and dropped some extended health benefit demands – such as demands for $30,000 in lifetime fertility treatments and prescribed massage or physiotherapy of up to $3,000 a year.

Also abandoned is a proposal  to remove the bottom step of the pay grid to improve pay for starting teachers, which Hansman described as an “agonizing” concession.

He also said the BCTF is open to looking at a shorter contract term if that gives the province more comfort.

Hansman said the union’s demand for eight per cent in pay hikes over five years still wouldn’t bring B.C. teachers to pay parity with any other province.

One big chunk of the union’s ask is a $5,000 signing bonus, which the province estimates would cost at least $150 million, in addition to the extra $166 million it says the union seeks in higher wages and benefits.

Just Posted

Bulkley Valley SD 54 superintendent leaving

Chris van der Mark has been superintendent with SD54 for eight years, and has hands full in Cariboo.

B.C. chiefs show solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Chiefs from around B.C. outside the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in Smithers show support.

Woman killed in head-on crash near Vanderhoof

RCMP say driver crossed the centre line and hit a loaded fuel tanker truck

RCMP to review actions at Wet’suwet’en pipeline protest camps

Senior Mountie says he hopes protests will be peaceful following deal with hereditary chiefs

Houston property assessments nudge up

District now working on 2019 spending plans

Keep focus on helping Canadians at home, Trudeau tells MPs at start of meeting

Trudeau said the Liberals will offer Canadians hope amid issue like climate change and global tensions

Pettersson returns to lead Canucks to 3-2 win over Red Wings

Vancouver’s super rookie has 2 points in first game back after knee injury

Skaters stranded in Saint John, NB, amid storm on last day of championships

More than half of the flights out of the city’s airport were cancelled due to the weather

Call for tighter bail rules after Saudi sex-crime suspect vanishes

Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi was facing charges related to alleged sexual assault, criminal harassment, assault and forcible confinement of a woman

12 poisoned eagles found on Vancouver Island

Improper disposal of euthanized animal suspected

Olympic softball qualifier to be held in B.C.

Tournament is to be held Aug. 25 to Sept. 1

B.C. resident creates global sport training program

The 20 hour course teaches the science and application of interval training at the university level

B.C. VIEWS: Fact-checking the NDP’s speculation tax on empty homes

Negative-option billing is still legal for governments

May plans next move in Brexit fight as chances rise of delay

Some say a lack of action could trigger a ‘public tsunami’

Most Read