Kimberley students are not in the classroom Monday morning as Rocky Mountain School District 6 was one of the first to be hit with rotating strikes by the B.C. Teachers Federation. The strikes will roll across the province this week — a one day job action by teachers frustrated by being unable to reach a deal on contraction negotiations. School support staff, members of CUPE, also stood on the line with Kimberley teachers Monday morning.
But this may not be the end of it as the BCTF has not ruled out further job action next week.
The issues are pay, classroom support and class size. BCTF president Jim Iker says B.C. teachers are the second-lowest paid in the country after P.E.I.
However, the Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, was not taking a conciliatory line on the strike Monday morning, saying it is always students and parents who bear the greatest brunt when the BCTF orders teachers to walk out.
The BC Pubic School Employers Association (BCPSEA), which negotiates on behalf of the government, had offered a $1200 signing bonus and a six-year deal rather than a ten, to get agreement by the end of June.
“When BCPSEA tabled those incentives, they asked the BCTF if they were willing to put on hold their stage 1 strike,” Fassbender said. “The BCTF refused. When it was made clear that if the union continued with its partial withdrawal of services, BCPSEA would need to respond with a corresponding reduction in teachers’ pay.
“Not only did the union refuse to stand down from its stage 1 strike, a few days later they dismissed the significant moves that BCPSEA made at the table, and informed students and parents that they would shut down schools through rotating strikes.”
However, Fassbender did say that BCPSEA stood ready to negotiate at any time but that a fair offer was on the table.
“The BCTF leadership is asking for a pay increase and other benefits that are more than four times what other public sector unions have recently settled for and their total demands are well beyond what taxpayers can afford. That remains a key stumbling block to meaningful bargaining.”
The BCTF has said there may be more strikes next week and the government said teachers risk 10 per cent salary cuts if the job action continues.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume this afternoon.