Teachers set to go on strike next week

Labour Relations Board rules teachers must mark provincial exams despite strike

School District 20 is asking students to clear out their lockers and return their books today, as summer vacation may arrive early due to the on-going labour dispute.

But rest assured strike-bound teachers in British Columbia must mark provincial exams for senior students and have final grades ready for graduating students, the province’s Labour Relations Board has ruled.

In its decision issued Thursday, the tribunal said teachers must be available to supervise provincial exams scheduled for Grades 10 through 12 students locally between June 18 to 24.

The ruling came on the heels of the BC Teachers’ Federation serving 72 hours’ strike notice for teachers to be on the picket line by Tuesday for a full scale withdrawal of teaching services, potentially ending the school year more than two weeks early.

Union president Jim Iker said teachers will be off-site Monday for “study sessions” where they will discuss their union’s revised proposals, including wage demands.

“While schools will be physically open, starting Monday there will be no instruction,” explained SD20 superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach in a letter to parents. “For safety reasons, I ask that parents keep all children home from school starting Monday until further notice.”

Given the uncertainty of the situation, students will be asked to remove all their personal possessions from schools today; this includes the return of library books and textbooks, excluding grades 10-12 course books needed to prepare for provincial exams.

“We are awaiting a ruling from the Labour Relations Board as districts have requested that transportation service be deemed an essential service for those specific provincial exam times,” said Luterbach, adding buses will not be running as of Monday.

He said parents will be updated should an agreement be reached prior to the end of the school year.

The union and the employers’ association are far apart on several issues, including wages and classroom conditions.

The union has been asking for a 9.75 increase over four years, but Iker would not reveal the new proposal Thursday. The employers’ association has offered a 7.3-per-cent hike over six years, along with a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached before the end of June.

“You know what my hope is, actually? That at those study sessions on Monday our members will be looking at a settlement deal and see if it works for them,” Iker told a news conference Thursday morning.’

The union announced on Tuesday teachers had voted 86 per cent in favour of launching a full-scale walkout after 16 months of contract negotiations.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday that the strike notice was not unexpected, but acknowledged that students and parents are stressed by the situation.

He said the government will be at the bargaining table over the weekend to try and avert a strike, but that the union must sit down “with reasonable responses to find a settlement.”

Iker said the union will not budge on what has been the biggest stumbling block in negotiations: demands for smaller classes and composition, which includes specialist teachers for students with learning difficulties.

The government has docked 10 per cent of teachers’ pay during job action and imposed a partial lockout that barred them from coming to work more than 45 minutes before classes start or stay later than 45 minutes after classes end.

It also announced it would lock out all secondary school teachers on June 25 and 26, with all teachers fully locked out on June 27.

Iker said that has prevented teachers from doing their job and “created a lot of chaos, a lot of confusion” though he’s hoping a deal can be reached to avert the full-scale walkout next week.

“Let’s get this deal this weekend, and there won’t be a full-scale strike. We end the lockout. That’s what we want.”

The government initially proposed a 10-year contract but then pulled back to a six-year agreement, which the union still rejected in favour of a four-year deal.

While the union has said it’s asking for a 9.75 per cent wage increase, the government claims the figure is closer to 19 per cent when cost-of-living increases and other benefits are included.

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