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Union wants more mediation

Both sides in British Columbia's ongoing teachers' dispute are talking about "mediation" but still remain far apart on key contract issues.

The province's roughly 40,000 public school educators walked off the job June 17, with the main issues in the dispute focused on wages and teaching conditions such as class size and the numbers of specialist teachers.

The BC Teachers' Federation and BC Public School Employers' Association approached B.C. Supreme Court Judge Stephen Kelleher at the end of June about stepping into the dispute as a mediator.

But after exploratory discussions' with both sides, he decided against proceeding any further as the independent third-party problem solver.

Jim Iker, president of the teachers' union, said he met with government negotiator Peter Cameron on Wednesday, the first time in two weeks.

"We're hoping that government will agree to go into mediation with us without any conditions from both sides," said Iker. "We want to get an agreement by the end of August."

He said mediation wasn't an option before because the union had to agree to a specific wage offer before a proposal for improvements to classroom conditions would be disclosed.

Iker said Kelleher has some time available in August to get the mediation process underway.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said in a statement that nothing has changed since Kelleher decided against proceeding as the mediator.

Fassbender said the union's executive would not commit to mediating a total compensation package that would fall in the same affordability zone as the other public sector agreements.

"Government wants to see a negotiated agreement but remains firm in its commitment to balance the budget and deal fairly with all 300,000 B.C. public sector workers," he said.

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