The B.C. Teachers' Federation signed a tentative agreement with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association late Tuesday. If ratified by teachers, it resolves a lengthy and contentious labour dispute, but does little to improve the frosty relationship between the Liberal government and teachers' union.
Education Minister George Abbott had warned he wasn't prepared to see the dispute run into another school year. BCTF president Susan Lambert said the deal was struck to avoid a legislated agreement.
"The deal gives modest improvements to benefit provisions-those provisions have been sorely lacking in improvements for about 20 years-and there are also improvements to leave provisions," she said in a press conference Wednesday morning. "But I think the most significant thing is the government was forced to take off the table the punitive legislation that Mr. Abbott and the Premier consistently and constantly threatened to bring into being in July. That legislation would have stripped teachers of further collective agreement rights."
Mediator Charles Jago was to prepare a report for the government with non-binding recommendations if an agreement hadn't been reached by June 30. Teachers vote on the tentative agreement through to Friday, with results released Friday night. Lambert stressed salary concerns and teachers' concerns about the education system haven't been addressed.
"The most significant thing we have to remember is this agreement changes nothing in schools. It doesn't alleviate the conditions that teachers have been struggling with over the last decade."
The agreement, which reflects the government's net-zero mandate, runs until June 30, 2013 and the BCTF and BCPSEA agreed to further discuss improvements on policy issues.
Lambert told reporters the tentative agreement wasn't signed to bide time in hopes a NDP government is elected next year.
"Well no. The reason why we made the agreement at the table last night was because we were able to push government's legislative agenda off. That was the pivotal thing for us. That was what made me sign on the bottom line," she said.
Bargaining for the next collective agreement starts in March, shortly before May's provincial election. Lambert insisted the BCTF was non-partisan when asked if it would push to get the NDP elected.
"Whatever government is in power, our first obligation is to the students and the system and we'll be strenuously advocating no matter the political stripe in the legislature in Victoria. In fact, what I think is very sad about this year is it's been guided and driven by the political aspirations of government instead of the needs of students."
Lambert also used the press conference to announce the BCTF was filing a notice of civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court dealing with Bill 22, which the union argues infringes on teachers' right to collective bargaining.
BCPSEA chair Melanie Joy said the tentative agreement was negotiated fairly and the employer didn't get all it wanted.
"This was a negotiated agreement. It's also very bare. The employer definitely didn't get all that they were hoping to achieve. I think that's what negotiations do," Joy said. "We seemed to have compromised at the end and we tried to do the best we could with what we were given as a mandate and the situation. "