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Tension over student safety

The preparation for job action between the union representing B.C.'s public school teachers and the government intensified Friday into acrimonious accusations about student safety.

Peter Cameron, the government's chief negotiator, said he found it bizarre that the B.C. Teachers Federation did not respond to his proposal to work out an agreement on supervising students during job action.

BCTF President Jim Iker responded that Cameron appears to be attempting to provoke public sentiment against the teachers.

Iker said the union told Cameron at the bargaining table that they were applying to the Labour Relations Board for an essential services designation, and part of that designation would involve setting guidelines to ensure students are supervised outside of the classroom during a dispute.

Cameron told a news conference Friday in Victoria that the government has concerns about the BCTF's phased-in job action that includes refusal to perform mandated supervision of students outside of class time.

In a March 28 letter to Iker, Cameron stated: "Your proposed Phase 1 includes a refusal to 'perform mandated supervision outside of class time.' British Columbia Public School Employers' Association believes that this aspect of your proposed strike activity could threaten the safety of students. As a result, we seek from you an agreement to ensure sufficient resources are available to maintain he safety of students."

Cameron told reporters he wasn't implying the teachers were willing to put the safety of students at risk during contract talks, but he called their refusal to respond to his letter "kind of a bizarre sequence of things."

"On the face of their job action plan, it creates an apprehension of danger that's quite legitimate," he said. "So, how do we deal with it?"

BCTF said it plans to launch job action in phases to force a settlement with the government. The first part involves refusing to perform supervisory duties outside of the classroom, with an escalation to rotating strikes and finally a full-scale walkout.

Cameron said negotiations are currently moving slowly and he forecast some form of teacher job action before the end of the school year.

Iker said the teachers did not respond to Cameron's letter about student supervision because the union had applied to the Labour Relations Board for a ruling on essential services, which includes student supervision.

Iker said the same issue was resolved by the LRB during the last teacher dispute about two years ago.

"I think he's trying to provoke the public against us," he said. "Students have always been safe and supervised in any of our actions because there's always an agreement or decision made on making sure that there is enough management people to do that supervision."

Last month, the teachers who cast ballots voted 89 per cent in favour of strike action.

The Canadian Press

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