Education Minister Peter Fassbender

Education Minister Peter Fassbender

No ‘showdown’ with teachers

The B.C. government is pressing ahead with its goal of a 10-year agreement with B.C. teachers

The B.C. government is pressing ahead with its goal of a 10-year agreement with B.C. teachers, appointing a “public administrator” to replace school trustees on the board of their provincial bargaining agency.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the change is temporary, and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association will continue to play an important role in talks with teachers and support staff. BCPSEA will be under the direction of Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Hospital Employers’ Association, when talks with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation resume in September.

Fassbender’s announcement surprised school trustees around the province. He said he spoke to or left messages for trustees on the BCPSEA executive before making the announcement in Vancouver last Wednesday.

The move is to meet a demand of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to bargain directly with the B.C. government, Fassbender said. The government also intends to eliminate essential services rules that keep schools open with minimum staff during strikes.

Fassbender denied the suggestion he is setting up a “showdown” with teachers that would shut down schools and turn the public against unions. The structural change is needed to achieve the stability for students and parents promised by Premier Christy Clark, he said.

“It’s not about pitting them against us,” Fassbender said. “It’s about finding a new road map where we can achieve that goal.”

A two-year contract extension and wage freeze imposed by the government on teachers expired at the end of June. Jim Iker, who took over this spring as BCTF president, told CKNW radio Thursday his union isn’t opposed to a long-term settlement, as long as more resources are there to improve classroom conditions.

The BCTF is returning to court this fall to seek restoration of bargaining for class size and special needs support.

School support staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees are to resume negotiations for a new contract this month, after walking away last spring because their negotiators didn’t believe BCPSEA had an adequate mandate to get a settlement.

CUPE employees have not had a raise in four years.