The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s latest wage demand amounts to a 16 per cent increase over three years, and it won’t happen, says Education Minister George Abbott.
The BCTF tabled its proposal to the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, seeking a three-year cost-of-living increase in the first year of a new contract, and six per cent in each of the two years after that.
It’s the first specific wage demand to be released by the union after nearly a year of talks and nearly five months of work-to-rule action by teachers.
Abbott, who is Shuswap MLA, told CKNW radio Tuesday he is skeptical of the BCTF’s estimate that its latest proposal will increase costs by $300 million more than current conditions. But even if it does, that’s still $300 million too much.
“I have said, the minister of finance has said, government has said probably a thousand times over the almost a year now that we’ve been negotiating that we have a net zero mandate for all public servants, including teachers,” Abbott said.
“It’s nice perhaps when you take an absurd figure and make it a bit less absurd, but it is still above net zero by a huge margin.”
Abbott’s comments have upset local teachers.
“Comments by the minister of education that our proposal is absurd does nothing to move the parties closer to a negotiated settlement,” said Bruce Cummings, Vernon Teachers’ Association president.
“Teachers in Vernon have been on strike since September, and want to get back to business as usual but need a collective agreement that respects the work we do and guarantees support for our most vulnerable students.”
BCTF president Susan Lambert said the new proposal also includes “modest improvements” to benefits and classroom preparation time.
“Yes, $300 million is a lot of money, but look at the scale of the endeavour,” Lambert said.
“It’s certainly a lot less than the cost of the (B.C. Place) stadium roof I see every day from my office window. And It’s less than the amount the B.C. Liberals have been able to take away from public education every year since 2002, when they illegally stripped our collective agreement of class-size and composition guarantees,” said Lambert.
Abbott said the BCTF contract that expired last spring contained about 16 per cent in wage increases over five years, and that was in prosperous times.
The provincial government currently has a $3.1 billion operating deficit and has signed agreements with several other public service unions with no total increase in compensation for the past two years.
The VTA wants the Vernon School District board to urge the government to revisit its bargaining mandate for teachers in order to reach a negotiated settlement.
It is time that the provincial government made bargaining with teachers a priority,” said Cummings.