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Legislation not the answer

The BC government will not use legislation to end the current labour dispute with the province's 40,000 striking teachers.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender made that clear during a conference call with media members across the province Thursday morning.

"We are not interested in legislating the teachers back to work. That is a pattern we have seen far too long and we are not interested in doing that," says Fassbender.

"I can tell you we do not want this to drift into the summer and potentially affect summer school. We do not want it to extend into the fall but we are not prepared to legislate and find ourselves forcing a settlement that is not in line with other settlements."

Fassbender was also non committal on the prospect of a mediator joining the talks.

That request was put forth by BCTF President Jim Iker, just moments before Fassbender began his media availability.

When asked about the possibility of mediation, Fassbender stated the negotiating team had not had a chance to discuss the request.

"We are open to anything that will bring us to an agreement. But, I think it is important that you recognize, and the public and teachers recognize, we've had a facilitator at the table," says Fassbender.

"Whatever it's going to take to get an agreement, our negotiating team and this government is prepared to do what we can. But it has to be an agreement that brings that gap that we see together."

Fassbender spoke to the media Thursday in order to, as he put it, 'ensure the misinformation I believe has been communicated by the BCTF is set straight.'

"We want an agreement by the end of June," says Fassbender.

"We ask you to speak to your leadership to say 'come into the affordability zone. Give us all the facts'."

He says the offer tabled by the government Sunday night was a fair offer for everyone, including both teachers and taxpayers.

"We want a settlement that is fair for teachers but we also want a settlement that is fair to the taxpayers and we need to be fair to every other employee in the province who provides valuable services."

"This is not affordable," Fassbender says of the BCTF's latest proposal. "This is not realistic. When we can negotiate deals with 150,000 public sector employees and, in the case of CUPE with support workers for the education system in five days, why can't we do that."

Fassbender says the latest teacher's proposal would cost the taxpayers in the range of $2B.

"That's unaffordable," he says.

"If we are going to get an agreement, the BCTF has to become realistic and I say to every teacher -- we are not even close to where we need to be in order to get a negotiated settlement."

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