B.C. Education Minister George Abbott announced Thursday that he intends to introduce legislation next week to end the dispute with public school teachers.
The decision comes after labour ministry official Trevor Hughes reported that a negotiated settlement between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the government’s bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, would be unlikely.
B.C. Liberal house leader Rich Coleman said the legislation could be presented as early as mid-week, but the debate on the provincial budget would take precedence until next Thursday unless there is an emergency situation.
Abbott said legislative options are being prepared that would reflect the government’s net-zero mandate of no wage increases for public sector employees.
“We have three-quarters of public employees, with 100-plus contracts negotiated with the net zero mandate,” Abbott said. “We have to proceed on that basis.”
The BCTF had proposed a three-year contract that would see teachers given a 15 per cent increase over that span. BCTF estimates the contract will cost an extra $300 million per year, however BCPSEA pegs that number at upwards of $500 million in the first year alone.
Teachers across the province have been doing essential service only since September, refusing to meet with school administration, supervise students during breaks or complete report cards. Teachers have been without a contract since June 2011.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said her earlier call for mediation in the dispute is an unusual step for any union.
“Teachers are looking for fair alternatives, such as mediation or even arbitration, to help the parties find a resolution to this dispute,” Lambert said.
Abbott said he would consider mediation for non-monetary issues, but with the two sides $2 billion apart on wages and benefits, that approach would not work for the monetary dispute. He said arbitration that would “cut the loaf in half” would not be consistent with the net zero mandate and the government will not consider it.
NDP education critic Robin Austin said the government should appoint a mediator to “go in and crack some heads” in an effort to achieve a settlement, before resorting to legislation.
Abbott said he was disappointed and saddened to be faced with imposing a contract.
“Teachers will be upset, but in some cases they will be relieved,” he said. “The union leadership will take a dim view of it, but I will not let a dispute among adults affect kids.”