REPRESENTATIVES for both the B.C. teachers’ union and school trustees have quietly begun contract negotiations for the next two-year teacher contract – and it’s anyone’s guess how those talks will turn out.
But school board chair Art Erasmus says reports have him optimistic, but there are still a few wrinkles to look out for – that being no new provincial money, and the looming provincial election. Part of his optimism is due to this year’s new bargaining arrangement between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employer’s Association, that smoothed the way for contract talks.
The improved method includes a mutually-agreed upon facilitator right from the start, a common set of data (before, the sides were starting from two completely different places and would spend negotiating time debating whose data was right), and a renegotiation of what is negotiated locally and what is negotiated provincially. There’s also a timeline so that negotiations conclude in a timely manner. Negotiations started Feb. 4, with an end date of June.
“All of that basically indicates that the parties agree that they’re going to put their best foot forward to get this thing done so that education can carry on,” said Erasmus.
But negotiations could still be tripped as political parties enter the election-campaign, he said.
“They’re going to have to keep their promises to whomever they’ve made them,” he said, noting who they will make those promises to is unknown.
One thing that is known, and has been made “crystal clear” to the school boards, is that there is no new money coming from the Liberal government to use in this round of bargaining, he said.
And since school district budgets are already tight, this means that if teachers and support workers are to get wage increases, that money is going to have to be found elsewhere.
For example, some money could be found if the workers modify their benefits plans, like the nurses’ union did when re-negotiating their contract.
And a provincial government demand made last year for school districts to find 1.5 per cent within their existing budgets to pay for wage increases of support workers, is still not out of the room – although it’s off the table for the time being after the province relented following pressure from school districts.