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Teachers' talks renewed with 89 per cent vote

Teachers' talks renewed with 89 per cent voteJim Iker, President of the British Columbia Teachers Federation, speaks in a Sept., 9, 2013 photo in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VICTORIA - Now that contract negotiations with British Columbia teachers have reached the next phase with an 89 per strike mandate, the education minister says he's looking forward to seeing contract demands from the union.

Peter Fassbender said Friday government negotiators have been essentially negotiating with themselves because their offer is the only one on the table.

The minister said he wants talks to reach the stage where each side has the others' proposals.

"Until we get an offer and their full proposal from the BCTF, it's very difficult to move anywhere — until you know where the other goal post is," he said. "It's kind of like looking down a football field without knowing where the goal post is at the other end."

But B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said the union tabled its demands almost a year ago, asking for wage increases that include cost-of-living adjustments and salary catch-ups to other provinces. The contract demands also call for smaller class sizes and more specialist teachers.

"What we're looking at in salary is a cost-of-living adjustment so we can keep up with the cost of inflation, and we want to have an important discussion with the employer in terms of comparability to our colleagues across Canada," he said. "Our wages have fallen way behind compared to teachers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick. That's the important discussion for us."

Statistics Canada reports in 2010 that the minimum annual starting wage for a B.C. teacher was $41,963, while in Alberta, the same wage was $53,838 and the starting wage in Ontario was $42,030.

Iker said union negotiators continued bargaining Friday and are prepared to be at talks scheduled for next week.

"We look forward to having that (wage) discussion and tabling proposals back and forth at the bargaining table," he said. "We also look forward to reaching a fair deal for teachers which includes better supports for our students. We want to see smaller class sizes for our students come September and more specialist teachers in the system."

"I'm hoping that's the back and forth we can have with the government," said Iker.

In January, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the government's move to strip class size and composition from the collective agreement was unconstitutional.

However, the government went back to court last month and received a temporary stay of the ruling.

Following the release of the strike vote late Thursday, Iker said no immediate job action was planned. He said earlier this week that part of the union's negotiating strategy involves rotating strikes to provoke a settlement.

The initial government wage offer added up to 6.5 per cent over six years, followed by indexed increases.

Fassbender said the government remains committed to reaching a lengthy settlement with the teachers.

Premier Christy Clark has said she considers a 10-year contract a long-term deal, but the union immediately shot down that possibility.

The province's 41,000 teachers have been without a contract since June 2013, and outstanding issues include wages, class sizes and class composition.

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