Late Tuesday, after almost 80 bargaining sessions and 16 sessions with mediator Dr. Charles Jago, public school employers reached a tentative collective agreement with the B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF).
The agreement signals a possible end to more than a year of labour strife between the provincial government and teachers throughout the province.
The deal will be put to a vote among teachers across B.C. either Thursday or Friday – the last official day of the school year.
“We are pleased that mediation has resulted in a tentative memorandum of settlement between the B.C. Public School Employer’s Assocation (BCPSEA) and the BCTF,” said Minister of Education George Abbott in a press release. “Under Dr. Jago’s guidance, the parties worked extremely hard and made progress on many important issues.”
The agreement is a two year term effective from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013.
“The term of the agreement sets out improved language to manage leave provisions, and is consistent with government’s net zero mandate,” said Abbott. “In addition, the parties agreed to further discuss and seek mutually agreeable improvements on key policy issues to provide students with the best education possible.
“In the days ahead, BCPSEA and the BCTF will communicate further to their members about the agreement and next steps with respect to ratification.”
Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teacher’s Union (School District #20), was encouraged by the deal although he sees it as more of a stopgap with some improvements.
“It’s a small step forward,” he said. “They have agreed not to impose a contract – that’s positive. We also had huge concerns about the concessions the employer was asking for about seniority and hiring based on suitability and those are not something they’re pursuing. So that’s encouraging. Those were very problematic for us.
“It looks like 75 per cent of teachers in B.C. will have improvements and benefits, which is something we haven’t had for over 20 years.”
Davidoff said the deal was basically a roll-over of the 2006-2011 agreement. “We then start bargaining again,” he said. “We start bargaining again in a month. We’ve agreed to talk about different issues such as post to fill, lay-off and recall provisions, and professional growth, in the fall. If we can’t agree on those things then the status quo prevails. Then what we do is start bargaining again in eight months. But it avoids the legislated agreement, the harsh fines and further punitive legislation – and that’s important. It looks like we’ve broken net zero, but I’m not sure yet. That’s the question I have.
“It’s a small step in the right direction, where we’re actually bargaining. And that’s all we’ve ever asked for. We just want to be able to bargain a collective agreement. I hope this is a small step forward in that direction.”
The 2011-12 school year was filled with labour tensions including a three day teachers’ strike in March.