Former University of Northern B.C. president Charles Jago has been appointed to mediate the dispute between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the bargaining agent for the province’s 60 school districts.
Education Minister George Abbott announced Jago’s appointment Wednesday. Abbott said his staff inquired about two senior judges suggested by the BCTF as possible mediators for the long-running dispute, but both are still serving and are not available.
Abbott said Jago is bound to seek a settlement within the terms of the government’s “net zero” wage mandate, which has been the basis for 130 settlements with public sector unions. But other than that, Jago has a “quite unrestricted mandate” to find common ground in other issues.
Jago’s mandate is defined by the legislation passed to end the BCTF strike and work-to-rule action and impose a six-month cooling-off period.
It includes class size and composition, the division of issues between local and provincial bargaining, teacher performance evaluation, “alignment of professional development with teaching needs” and “scheduling and selection of teachers suited to student needs.”
Jago has until the end of June to work with the union and the employers’ association, and then he is to make recommendations for a settlement whether there is an agreement or not. The legislation requires that a two-year contract be put in place from the expiry of the earlier contract last spring to June 2013.
In a conference call from Prince George, Jago said he is hopeful he can make progress if both sides are willing to work on solutions.
Even a two-year freeze on total compensation leaves room to find money for wage increases, he said.
Jago said he was involved with faculty negotiations at UNBC and a previous university post in Ontario, but he has no previous experience as a mediator.
He is being paid $2,000 a day, which Abbott said is a standard rate for mediators in large labour disputes.
BCTF president Susan Lambert told reporters the union will participate in the mediation, but she is concerned about Jago’s lack of labour relations experience, and also two donations of $500 each Jago made to the B.C. Liberal Party.
Jago said the payments were on behalf of a golf foursome that took part in two party fundraising tournaments, for which he was reimbursed by other players. His policy as a university president was not to donate to any political party, he said.
Lambert also questioned a report on education Jago wrote for the government-appointed B.C. Progress Board in 2006.
That report recommended closer interaction between secondary schools and post-secondary institutions, with “priority attention” to promoting trades training.