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Students' exams will be marked

Final exams will be marked and grades will be distributed to all of British Columbia's graduating students regardless of whether teachers are walking picket lines, the education minister has pledged as the union threatens an all-out strike.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender guaranteed on Thursday the government will not allow the growing conflict to throw students off course by taking "whatever steps" necessary to ensure critical studies are completed.

"The commitment, without any hesitation, is they will be able to finish their year, their exams, the marking of those exams -- and that is not something that will be open to discussion," he told reporters.

Ministry staff and the teachers' employer have started working out a plan for how they'll minimize report card disruptions, though they hadn't yet cemented the details, Fassbender said.

The minister said he's "disturbed" the union could be potentially targeting student exams and graduation.

A full-scale strike is now on the horizon after the union announced it will ask teachers to support a withdrawal of all services in a vote this coming Monday and Tuesday. If a majority approves, the teachers are legally obligated to give three days notice before walking off the job.

Meantime, the B.C. Teachers' Federation will launch a third week of rotating strikes that affect every district in the province for one day while the vote and notice is carried out.

"I believe that if we stand strong together we will get a deal that is fair to us and most importantly increases support for our students," union president Jim Iker said in an email to members.

"A strong yes vote and a determination to take further action will force the government to negotiate fairly with us."

The union has been pointing fingers at the government for creating confusion and chaos by implementing a lockout after teachers began stage two job action.

Student Mati Cormier said she blames both sides for the conflict and doesn't believe either is looking at the bigger picture.

"It's really tough when everyone is saying we might have another strike," said the 14 year old, who attends Ideal Mini School in Vancouver.

"We don't know what's going to happen. I want consistency with school and education, I want to be able to learn without being scared of what's going to happen next week."

Teachers are prohibited from attending school 45 minutes before and 45 minutes after scheduled classes. Their pay has been cut by 10 per cent in association with the lockout.

The union has reduced its wage demands, including cost of living increases, to about 12 per cent over four years, while the employer has offered a 7.3 per cent hike over six years.

Fassbender said the union wage demand is still four times higher than other public-sector union agreements recently settled. The contract expired one year ago.

The parties were engaging in bargaining talks again Thursday, and Fassbender said the government is in no rush to legislate teachers back to work.

On Wednesday, the B.C. Labour Relations Board ruled the employer could take 10 per cent pay from teachers as the union continued its rotating strike action.

The Canadian Press

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