Fact-finder to look at negotiations between teachers and government

Labour minister appoints assistant deputy minister to look into situation.

 

A fact-finder has until Feb. 23 to determine whether the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) can reach a voluntary settlement.

After a request from Education Minister George Abbott last week, Labour Minister Margaret MacDairmid appointed her assistant deputy minister Trevor Hughes to complete the task.

“This past week, in an effort to resolve this issue, I asked Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid to appoint a neutral party to inquire into the status of negotiations,” said Abbott in a written statement.

However, Comox District Teachers’ Association president Steve Stanley said he doesn’t consider Hughes neutral.

“We’re concerned that it’s someone from the Ministry of Labour who’s going to be looking at something else that the government is doing,” said Stanley. “It seems like it could be an insider and we would obviously prefer it to be an outsider — someone from the Labour Relations Board or doesn’t have a vested interest perhaps… that would be our choice rather than someone who is actually an employee of government.”

After nearly a year of talks between the two parties and teacher job action since September, both sides have agreed on one thing — talks need to get moving.

Stanley said that while he is concerned about whether Hughes is neutral, a fact-finder is “helpful.”

“At this stage, it would be helpful to either go to a mediator or a fact-finder,” said Stanley, adding that he believes a negotiated settlement is still possible.

Abbott said negotiations could continue after Hughes’ report but also mentioned the possibility of “other ways” to end the negotiations.

“It may well be that this individual can find reasons to be optimistic about continuing negotiations — or it may be that government will need to look at other ways to resolve the dispute,” said Abbott, adding that “there are few signs of progress” at this point in negotiations.

Teachers have been legislated back to work in the past by government.

In January, teachers tabled a package proposing a three-year agreement with a salary increase based on cost of living allowance. Benefits increases were also outlined.

At the time, Abbott said the proposal was still not in line with the government’s net zero mandate for public sector contracts.

Comox Valley District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) treasurer David Gillis said DPAC hopes to see an agreement come “sooner than later,” noting a lack of report cards. But he also said that the strike hasn’t affected SD71 “negatively.”

“It would be nice to see an agreement come for sure, but it’s not a drastic panic at this point from a parent’s point of view because it’s not negatively affecting anyone at this point,” said Gillis. “Parents, at this point, aren’t complaining to us at DPAC level.”

School District 71 Board of Education chair Tom Weber said relations between teachers and senior management at SD71 remain professional and respectful, but said the the situation is taking a “toll” on everyone.

“As protracted labour negotiations takes its toll on all parties, a re-examination of what has happened to date may provide some clarity and insight for the public and those at the barginaing table,” explained Weber.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com