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Teachers appeal for negotiated settlement
Last week, in an effort to resolve the current contract dispute between B.C. teachers and the province, a fact-finder was appointed to look at whether there were prospects of the two parties coming to a negotiated settlement.
This was done at the request of Education Minister George Abbott, who visited the Okanagan Skaha School district earlier this month.
“My well of optimism is not exactly overflowing at this point. I’d love to look forward to hearing at the end of the day that there had been something constructive at the table,” said Abbott, adding that there had been about 75 bargaining sessions and the negotiating teams from the B.C. Teachers Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers Association have not moved significantly from where they were the first time they met.
“You can imagine what I am hearing from teachers, that they will be most disappointed and feel awful,” said Kevin Epp, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers Union. “I have been trying to reach (Penticton MLA Bill) Barisoff for the better part of a week.”
On Monday evening, Epp appealed to the Okanagan Skaha Board of Education for their support in encouraging the government to come to a negotiated settlement.
“We will end up with a lot of hard feelings if we have legislation,” said Epp. “I feel for those bargaining teams, because I feel they are both set up for failure. So anything you could do would be appreciated. If nothing else, teachers need to know that trustees feel it is important that a negotiated settlement occur, not an imposition and certainly not back-to-work (legislation).”
Board chair Ginny Manning agreed that the board also desires a negotiated settlement, but said they have no plans to take action, writing to the minister either in support of a negotiated settlement, or, as in the case of some school districts, asking for a legislated end to the dispute.
“Ideally, a negotiated settlement would be the best outcome, but at this point we have not written to the education minister to encourage either way,” said Manning. “We have given our support to BCPSEA in trying to get a negotiated settlement.”
While Abbott, in a letter to the board announcing the planned inquiry, called the dispute a strike, Epp pointed out that this is only a job action, with teachers refusing to do administrative jobs though they are continuing many other non-classroom work like organizing the district science fair, music festivals and coaching sports.
“I won’t refer to it as back to work,” said Epp, referring to all the work being done, both in the classroom and outside. “I think it would be facetious for anybody to call it back-to-work legislation. It might be an imposed contract, but the job action hasn’t stopped teachers in this district or any other from working.”
And while teachers are refusing to issue report cards as part of the job action, that doesn’t apply to Grade 12 students, many of whom need ongoing marks as they apply for post-secondary education.
“All Grade 12 students are receiving marks for courses that have been completed,” said assistant superintendent Dave Burgoyne. Teachers did complete marks for those courses, he said, and submit them to the office for distribution. “We haven’t got to the point of talking about Dogwoods, but report cards will be done for final grades for Grade 12 students. That’s something we met with Mr. Epp on.”
Epp added that teachers have just agreed to provide graduating students with the ongoing and mid-term marks they need for their applications, should the job action continue.
“They will get those on a formal report card if that smooths things out for a university or trade school application,” said Epp. “From the outset, teachers have said we are not going to hinder students moving on to university with this job action, that wouldn’t be the point.”